I am sitting here brainstorming, thinking of a good environmental issue to write about and how applied social psychology relates to it. I could write about how human dependence on fossil fuels is causing global warming, but I won’t. Instead I’m going to write about my own personal experience as a consumer of natural energy resources, and the changes I’ve made to reduce my family’s carbon footprint.
I wish I could say that it was my concern for the environment which urged me and my family to make the changes initially, but it was not. Eight years ago my husband lost his job as a production manager at the manufacturing plant he had worked at for ten years. This was a major impact on our lives, our income changed drastically. The first thing I did was research on all the ways we could reduce our monthly spending. Some major things our family could change that would reduce our bills were related to the environment; we could reduce our consumption of electricity, water, natural gas, and petroleum. I came up with a list of all the changes we would make that would save us a bundle of money and also help to reduce our carbon footprint. We had a savings, thank goodness, or we would not have been able to make some of the changes required.
First we reduced our use of gasoline; my husband traded in his gas guzzling SUV for a more economical sedan. His MPG went from 15 to 27. Then we went out and bought the energy efficient CFL bulbs and changed all of the light bulbs in our home. We also began getting in the habit of turning off lights when not in use and turning of the TV when nobody is physically watching it. Another way we reduced our carbon footprint was to conserve water. I’ve always been thoughtful about that, but we made a few more changes. For instance our dishwasher has an economy setting which uses much less water, so we began using that setting. My son, who loves to dilly dally in the shower, with our encouragement, reduced his shower time from twenty minutes to ten minutes. We changed the shower heads in our two bathrooms to water conserving ones. Another change I made was creating a way to collect rainwater from our gutter system to be used to water our yard instead of using the water hose. Another change we made was using our tap water for drinking water, instead of purchasing bottled water. Which after research I learned that bottled water does nothing but line the pockets of whoever sells it. We also had our furnace changed from the original one that was a good fifty plus years old with 45% efficiency, to a new model that cut our natural gas consumption nearly in half with a new furnace that has 90% efficiency. This cost a little bit upfront, but has greatly reduced our monthly natural gas bill and was definitely worth it. With all the changes being made, we felt it was important to have a family meeting to discuss the importance of being more thoughtful of the energy we use. In order to help our children make the changes we got them involved and made the good energy saving behaviors part of their reward chart. We also assigned them jobs; my son was put in charge of recycling, and our daughter is the one who makes sure we are turning of lights and not leaving things on that are not in use. They are good little energy conservation law enforcers.
Even though we are back on track economically, the new changes that we made are still with us and have encouraged our children to participate actively in reducing our carbon footprint and coming up with ideas to be more thoughtful consumers. My son is in charge of the recycling that goes on around here. He’s like a little recycling policeman, making sure that anything that could go in the recycle bins gets put there and not accidentally put in the trash. He even finds interesting new uses for items that would normally get tossed out; for instance an old plastic shelf that we were going to throw out has become a display shelf in his room for all his favorite toys.
I found that as these changes were being made in our home, I began talking about it with my friends. When I told them about the cost savings we experienced after making these changes, some of my friends began to make some of the changes also. This relates to the idea in the book that people with common interests and beliefs tend to socialize with and influence each other (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). It seemed that the more conscious we were of our use of energy and water, the more thoughtful we became about other areas we could make changes. For instance, I now use nothing but reusable grocery bags when I shop. I also is try to make errands as efficient as possible, so I’m not driving all over using more gas than necessary. At first it takes a bit of an effort, but then over time becomes habit and though initially these changes were motivated by the need to reduce our costs, it is a good feeling knowing that with a few simple acts that we are reducing our carbon footprint. These habits will carry on with our children, as I’m certain that by the time they are adults it will be an important part of their daily life.
Schneider, F., Gruman, J., Coutts, L. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.) Los Angeles: Sage.