Home energy use gets a 'smackdown' on reality TV
Even an 'überenvironmentalist' family found it could save a lot more when a competition was at stake.
Most Americans know they should decrease their energy consumption, but many need a push to do it. Three families in this suburb north of Boston got that incentive by appearing on "Energy Smackdown," a reality TV show in which contestants competed to shrink their carbon footprint. The program aired on a local cable TV station during August and September.Skip to next paragraph
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With lifestyles ranging from überenvironmentalist to highly consumptive, each family was able to bring its footprint down by at least 30 percent in some surprising and "I can't believe I didn't think of that before" ways. All three teams found that, through a little friendly competition, making changes in their homes and lifestyles wasn't as hard as they thought.
"Before the competition, we were like most people, thinking we had gotten all the low-hanging fruit and done all we could," says Mieke van der Wansem of Team van der Nou. "Doing the competition made us realize there are some small things we can do around the house that aren't really that hard to get us over that plateau."
While Team Van der Nou (made up of Mieke, husband Steve, and young daughters Anneke and Sofie) was extremely ecofriendly to begin with, Team Moot Roosa Productions (featuring Alex Moot, Nancy Roosa, and children Ellis and Kaly) lived a more consumptive lifestyle that many Americans can identify with. The third family, Team EcoCluggi (Sarah and Jason Cluggish, with 4-year-old Sam), was somewhere in between, describing themselves as "normal people who are environmentally conscious."
"We chose three families that live different lifestyles so viewers could relate to at least one of the families and realize that anyone can do something without completely changing everything about their house or life," says Donald Kelley, producer of "Energy Smackdown" for TV3 Medford.
The initial reason for developing a television show about families saving energy was to encourage community awareness about ecofriendly options in their own homes, Mr. Kelley says.
While a TV show about how to cut your carbon footprint could have taken many forms, Kelley and his production team wanted to capitalize on the popularity of reality TV. He also tapped into the most recent research on the role peer pressure plays in making ecological choices.
According to a recent American Psychological Association study, people are more likely to make green choices if they think others are, too. And according to Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, competitions "can be very effective" in inspiring change because "social incentives are often more effective than economic incentives in spurring people to change their behavior."
The competition began in March with a baseline assessment of each family's energy use. They plugged their lifestyle numbers (electricity use, travel, gas use, garbage generation) into a CO2 emissions calculator (www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_calculator.html).
At the start, Team van der Nou was in the lead: It produced 10,216 pounds of CO2 per person per year, followed by Team Eco-Cluggi (18,692 pounds) and Moot Roosa at 26,733. The national average is 15,000 pounds per person.