Northern California’s major utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, handed consumers a nice surprise this week in the form of $25 pre-paid debit cards. The cards were sent out to any consumer who used less gas in December 2010, than in an average of prior Decembers. No matter what the reduction, anyone in San Francisco or San Mateo counties who saved gas was sent the $25 card.
The motivation? Increased winter demand on overstressed pipelines in the area mean PG&E benefits from lower usage while pipelines are worked on. Despite some skepticism, there is no catch for consumers. The card is as good as cash.
But what’s the deeper benefit?
Simple – happy stakeholders. For reasons both rational and otherwise, PG&E is not a well loved brand in the Bay Area. Doing something nice for people in exchange for a little effort shows the company is actually paying attention and will win them some favor. Not only that but the cards are evidence of a little creativity and extra effort. PG&E could have simply credited people’s accounts $25 and sent them a thank-you-note. But who would notice that? By sending people a tangible card they use like cash, consumers react as if they’ve just been given a present, and the local economy benefits as well. For example, I celebrated immediately by heading out to a neighborhood restaurant and spending mine on dinner (with a healthy tip to boot).
The only problem? Most people (including me) seem to have had no idea this was coming. If PG&E had done a better job getting the word out in advance, perhaps they could have realized even greater savings. Then again, finding a surprise Easter Egg adds to the fun – it’s like winning a prize you didn’t even know you were eligible for. Kudos to PG&E for a creative way to reward sustainable practices and win some new fans.