Despite Conserving, Energy Costs Grow

We’re trying to conserve, but we might not  actually be using less energy — and we’re definitely not seeing smaller utility bills. So says Shelton Group, a Tennessee-based advertising agency that polled 502 Americans about attitudes and habits regarding energy use. As the agency’s president and CEO, Suzanne Shelton, put it, “unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free lunch, or a free hot shower.”

This is the sixth time the agency has done its “Energy Pulse” survey. This year, the number of people saying they’ve done things to conserve energy made a big jump, from 60 percent in 2009 to 91 percent. But despite unplugging chargers, switching to energy-efficient bulbs and turning down the thermostat, nearly two-thirds of us say our power bills have gone up.

Energy use survey graph, Shelton Group

image via Shelton Group

Shelton places some of the blame on rising electricity rates, but also says we’re powering more things than we used to — like flat-screen TVs, additional computers and various gizmos. Plus: “Consumers can get lulled into thinking that because they installed CFLs, they can leave their lights on all the time, or because they bought a high-efficiency water heater, they indulge themselves with longer, hotter showers.”

The survey found that saving money was the top motivator for conserving, cited by 32 percent of respondents, although the three arguably selfless reasons that trailed — protecting the environment (17 percent), preserving the quality of life for future generations (15 percent) and being responsible and not wasting resources (10 percent) — nearly added up to a majority.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • u201cConsumers can get lulled into thinking that because they installed CFLs, they can leave their lights on all the time” nnThe same problem comes with recycling. People will buy one item in a store and get a plastic bag to carry it in. If you ask them why they got the bag they’ll say “It’s ok, the bag can be recycled” But they’re missing the point. If people didn’t take bags when they didn’t need them then fewer bags would need to be produced. Recycling shouldn’t be used as an excuse for waste.