Decades of badgering from environmentalists has had relatively little impact on our driving habits, just as badgering from nutritionists has not solved the obesity problem. But things are changing rapidly on the environmental front these days, and mostly in a good way. Let's look at a couple of core samples.
Hybrid car purchases
The demand for hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and Camry Hybrid is so high, automakers can't keep up, according to a story in the Detroit Free Press. Ford and GM hybrid vehicles face the same situation. Dealers are telling stories about recent buyers of large SUVs, especially those that run on diesel, trying to trade in for a hybrid, even though it's going to cost them big.
Closer to home, my own recent purchase of a Vespa was actually more motivated around (a) avoiding insane parking charges for short meetings downtown, (b) a desire to avoid the crowds on the subway and (c) have fun doing it. Being green was just a bonus.
But sales of two-wheeled vehicles are rising, and it seems that gas prices have succeeded where the cool factor has been insufficient.
As with many consumer behaviors, single motivators are insufficient. If you can pile up several motivators, you change behavior.
Leaving the cardboard at the store
A recent trip to IKEA revealed a new trend here that is well established in some countries: the practice of unpacking things at the store. It was always a nuisance to bundle up all that cardboard to recycle. Now that there are limitations on how much we can put out at the curb -- even of paper recycling -- people are starting to manage their usage down in creative ways.
The predictable unintended side-effect will be an increase in illegal dumping of all sorts of things, in order to avoid garbage charges. And avoid the nuisance of figuring out how to even get the truck guys to pick up an extra container. [Just exactly how do I pay? And who do I pay?]
We are hearing a lot these days about "being hit in the pocketbook", which is a way of explaining all human behavior in terms of monetary consequences. This is not correct, in my view. the reality is that you need a bunch of motivators to change behavior, and $ is one of them. If you can get people feeling good, feeling righteous even, and add some $ consequences to that mix, you're much better off. If you can pile coolness, status, and other social motivators on top of that, you are in great shape.
And this is why the science of human behavior will ultimately succeed where environmentalist hectoring has failed. Because being hectored isn't much of a motivator for change.
Hybrid sales plunge as demand keeps rising; battery shortage limits Toyota supply. by Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press, June 11, 2008 (via Marketing Daily)