Keeping up with the Joneses seems to work for energy conservation in -the always competitive- U.S.
Robert Cialdini, a leading expert in persuasion, developed a program to minimize the consumption in Sacramento’s households, sending out statements to 35,000 randomly selected customers, rating them on their energy use compared with that of neighbors in 100 homes of similar size that used the same heating fuel. The customers were also compared with the 20 neighbors who were especially efficient in saving energy. Customers who scored high earned two smiley faces 🙂 🙂 on their statements. “Good” conservation got a single smiley face :). Customers whose energy use put them in the “below average” category, got frowns 😦 :(, but the utility stopped using them after a few customers got upset.
Dr. Cialdini notes that few ways are as effective as comparing people with their peers. In a 2004 experiment, he and a colleague left different messages on doorknobs in a middle-class neighborhood north of San Diego. One type urged the residents to conserve energy to save the earth for future generations; another emphasized financial savings. But the only kind of message to have any significant effect, Dr. Cialdini said, was one that said neighbors had already taken steps to curb their energy use.