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Utilities turn their customers green, with envy

Utilities in 10 major metropolitan areas, including Sacramento, Chicago, and Seattle, have adopted a novel method to reduce energy consumption: keeping up with the neighbors.  Customers’ utility bills compare usage with neighbors in homes of similar size that use the same heating fuel.  Efficient customers receive smiley faces on their bills; below- average users get frowny faces, although some utilities stopped printing frowns when a few customers got upset.  The behavior modification program has been effective, reducing energy use by 2% more  than standard statements. Positive Energy, a software company, conceived of the statements and contacts to produce them. 

Colleges have used rivalries with nearby schools and even between dormitories to reduce energy use for over a decade. 

Brainshift Foundation, a nonprofit that raises environmental awareness through games, organized towns in Massachusetts to compete in a reality series called “Energy Smackdown.”  The towns formed teams that competed in such conservation categories as waste, heating fuel, electricity and food.  The results surprised the organizers, with some households reducing consumption by up to two-thirds.  Why did it work so well? For Donald Kelley, the head of the Brainshift Foundation, it was because, “as Americans, we are good at entertainment and competition.”

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