It’s an early adopter world, after all

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“There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip chest.”

I’m not quite sure what that old saying refers to, except that there’s a long way between intentions and actions. That is the case with people trying to be “greener” in their energy use. Surveys and reports document the gap between people’s intent and action. The Shelton Group, a market research firm doing their 2006 Energy Pulse study, found that 44 percent of Americans surveyed intend to use green energy, which either pollutes less or not at all, but only 4 percent actually make a transaction through their utility company or other organization.

There are a variety of reasons for this. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in their last Green Power Report, stated that a little more than 20 percent of all American utilities either have a significant portion of their power from green sources, like biomass, wind, small-scale hydro or solar, or offer some option to consumers to buy some. Of that 20 percent, most utilities don’t market the product very well, or make it very convenient to purchase. So it is no surprise that the number winds up being 4 percent.

Small percentages crop up in other adoptions, especially where offerings are “voluntary.” Less than 10 percent of new construction homes are built to Energy Star standards, a minimum of 15 percent improvement of energy performance over standard building codes. About 15 percent of new car purchases are 40 miles per gallon or better performance. Adoption of solar and wind power for buildings is even smaller, around 1 percent of buildings, concentrated in California and the Northeast. Most widespread energy efficiency are standards mandated by the big, bad government on appliances, the significant improvement of mileage in vehicles in the 1970s and early 1980s, and a locally haphazard improvement in building codes.

Making your lifestyle energy efficient, saving money and pollution, is still in the early adopter mode. This mode is part of a bell curve devised by economist and futurist Everett Rogers in his book Diffusion of Innovations, where adoption of new ways goes through five waves, starting with Innovators, consisting of 2.5 percent of a population, Early Adopters at 13.5 percent, Early Majority at 34 percent, Late Majority 34 percent and Laggards at 16 percent. Depending on what you’re doing, whether it’s changing out your lighting fixtures to compact fluorescents, trading in your gas guzzler or planning a solar addition, you’re somewhere in the Innovator/Early Adopter segment. You’re not alone, although you may feel like it as friends, neighbors and co-workers may be emptily supportive, studiously indifferent or somehow hostile, as if what you’re doing threatens them. You may want to ask them to remove their tin foil hat.

Don’t let it get you down. You’re the one saving money and doing something about pollution, besides talking and waiting for the magic answer to be dumped in your lap. Every day, you have more company in this adventure than you realize.

Mark Burger is president of the Illinois Solar Energy Association, a chapter of the American Solar Energy Society, and principal of Kestrel Development Company, a renewable energy consulting firm and developer of zero energy building.

From the Dec. 20-26, 2006, issue

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