National Interest Spurs Energy Efficiency Concerns
More than saving money or saving the planet, the war in Iraq and the national interest come closest to what’s motivating American consumers to become more receptive to energy-efficient products and conservation activities, according to polling results presented at the NAHB National Green Building Conference last month in Albuquerque, N.M.
When a telephone survey conducted by the Shelton Group last summer asked 406 households to choose from a number of messages that would be most persuasive in convincing them to focus on energy efficiency in their purchasing decisions, roughly 36% identified protecting the nation’s economy and reducing its dependence on foreign oil. Less than 25% said that saving money would be their leading inducement to pursuing energy efficiency, followed by ensuring quality of life for future generations, which was picked by roughly 21% of the respondents, and protecting the environment and saving natural resources, the choice of about 19%.
The “Energy Pulse 2005” survey, which the Knoxville, Tenn. marketing firm plans to update annually from here on out, also found that green builders will have to tread carefully to capitalize on widening opportunities to stand out and flourish in the marketplace, because consumers generally have a weak grasp of what sustainability means and they aren’t necessarily looking to builders and architects as the people who can teach them.
Over People's Heads
“Despite openness to energy-efficient products, there is a lack of understanding about green, renewable energy,” said Suzanne Crofts Shelton, the company’s president. “Eighty percent can’t name one form of it,” she said. “It’s over people’s heads, and they don’t understand what builders are talking about.”
The term “conservation” elicited a positive response from 70% of those surveyed, Shelton said, significantly more favorable than what would have been found a decade ago, but almost half of the respondents (47%) gave a big collective shrug to “green.” “They just don’t get it,” she said.
Local builders and architects need to step up to the plate to establish themselves as experts in this field. Only about 37% of the households that were polled said that the two groups of professionals were knowledgeable about energy-efficient home features and apt to include or recommend them.
And only about 46% said they would be likely to purchase energy-efficient products through their home builder or contractor — compared to 82% from a national home improvement store such as Lowes or Home Depot, 79% from a national home appliance store such as Best Buy or Sears, 66% from a local appliance store and 57% from a local heating and air dealer.
Putting Views on Energy Into Practice
Survey results also indicated that the public is not yet sufficiently wired on the energy issue to actually put some of their views on the subject into practice. “There is a disconnect between what people think and that they do,” according to Shelton. “While 59% of Americans said that the issue of energy conservation is extremely important now and 72% think it is going to be extremely important in the next 10 years, only 32% say it’s extremely important in how it currently impacts their purchases and daily activities.”
Nevertheless, “the use of energy-efficient products and services is surprisingly high and growing,” she indicated.
Americans reported an average of six conservation activities over the last year, ranging from efforts as simple as purchasing a compact fluorescent bulb or recycling daily to installing solar panels or purchasing a hybrid car. Eight-eight percent said they were likely or very likely to purchase at least one additional energy-efficient product or undertake one additional energy-efficient activity in the future, and in fact, they actually expect to pursue an average 4.5 energy-efficient products or activities in the period ahead, the survey found.
Among top conservation products or activities of particular relevance to members of the home building industry, survey respondents said they:
- Purchased efficient CF.halogen bulbs, 63%
- Bought products made from recycled materials, 55%
- Purchased Energy Star appliances, 51%
- Installed efficient windows/doors, 46%
- Installed extra insulation, 44%
A good omen for green builders is a demographic shift to the mainstream for prospective buyers of energy-efficient products, Shelton said.
Finding Favor With Blue-Collar Workers
In the past, purchases of these products have been driven largely by high-educated, white, upper-middle class, white-collar workers, she said. In a significant shift, many of those products are now finding favor with lower-income blue-collar workers and minorities.
About 78% of survey participants said they would choose one home over another based on its energy efficiency.
When asked why they do not participate in more energy conservation activities:
- 54% said that new technologies will soon be invented to solve energy supply issues.
- 49% said that energy-efficient products cost more.
- 45% said it’s hard to change habits.
When asked to choose the best solution to the problem, more households indicated a preference for increasing energy efficiency (43%) than reducing their consumption of energy (29%); almost 27% endorsed using a combination of both.
Willing to Pay More
Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said they were willing to pay more for energy-efficient home features that would help save money on monthly utility bills and potentially increase the resale value of their home. Among those, the average extra amount they said they were willing to add to a home purchase price was $9,600. The most frequent amounts specified were $10,000 (15%) and $20,000 (12%).
Among those who were willing to pay more for energy-saving products, about 37% said they were willing to wait more than three years to recoup the additional expense, 16% would wait two to three years, 18% one to two years, 22% six months to a year and 7% less than six months.
About 18% of the survey group was characterized as being highly committed to energy conservation, and they were primarily highly educated, single, 25-39-year-old members of Generation X. The commitment of 58% was moderate, primarily comprised of high-income baby boomers; and 24% demonstrated low commitment, a group that is primarily low-income, senior or with less than 12 years of education.
To download NAHB’s Green Home Building Guidlelines, click here.
For information on green home building resources at NAHB, e-mail Calli Schmidt, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.