In these days when presidential candidates talk about biofuels, carrying a reusable shopping bag has moved beyond the crunchy to the mainstream, and CFL light bulbs are doing brisk business at Walmart, you’d think we as a society were making progress, in terms of energy use and resource consumption.
But how do we know? How do you, on an individual level, know how much your efforts are making a difference, or if you’re doing enough? Without a point of reference, or if you like, ecofeedback, it’s not clear. And for many I suspect that’s why there is less happening then could/should. As Community Pulse, a newly rolled out site puts it, “How can we know where we’re going if we don’t know where we are?”
How do they plan to address this?
Community Pulse uses the newspaper, radio and the web to provide per person, monthly information for four of our biggest environmental challenges – water use, energy use, waste generation and CO2 emissions – as well as a target for where we want to be heading.
They filter the hurricane of information and statistics out there, and boil it down to something usable and actionable by you and I, delivered weekly.
When individuals are empowered with knowledge and actionable steps to improve from where they are currently, the collective difference could be enormous.
When all these seemingly disparate things are linked together, so that you can see how reducing the use of one resource requires less energy to get it to you in the first place, it all comes together. There is greater purpose, direction to your actions. Community Pulse is partnering with utilities and governmental agencies to gather and disseminate information that previously may have been either years old or not written with the public in mind. They take out the jargon and put in the humanity.
The inspiration for Community Pulse is one that could be replicated elsewhere. In the Netherlands the government wanted to reduce natural gas use by 15%. As you’d expect for such an ambitious goal, they were readying to use many resources to achieve this result. A graduate student suggested something much simpler: Tell people what how much they’re currently using, how much they’d like them to use, and then show them how that could happen. Starting with an ad in the paper doing exactly this, it became a topic of conversation, comparison, and action among people in the community. 6 months later, they’d reduced natural gas use by 18%.
Ecofeedback has been around for some time, in cars telling you how much mileage you’re getting real time as you drive, or more recently, smart thermostats giving you energy usage data both live and over time. It’s these relevant deliveries of information that should be infused in many other areas of our daily lives.
If you don’t happen to be in Sonoma or Napa County, California, Community Pulse still has plenty for you, with potential actions broken up into four categories: No Brainers, A Little More, Reasonable Investment, and Full On Treehugger. In other words, from easy things that don’t require much on your part, through to outright lifestyle changes, whichever suits you best.
Readers: What other examples of ecofeedback are you seeing out there, that other communities could model after? What are some ideas you have that haven’t happened yet?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.