Don’t Forget Joe Consumer
I’ve been thinking a lot about consumer education lately.
For example, last Thursday I was walking to Chicago’s Navy Pier and passed an advertisement on a bus stop. The ad, which was for a local Web site, featured a quote written by a local. It said, “I’m all for global warming if it means the city won’t get so darn cold.” I understand the ad is supposed to intrigue Chicagoans who already are feeling the chilliness of fall set in. However, I know there are people who really believe that the misnomer “global warming” is a good thing. And ads like this one only perpetuate that mindset.
Here’s another example: In August, I attended a press conference held at the Airports Going Green conference in Chicago. Mayor Richard M. Daley and Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino led the conference. Major media representatives were in attendance, supposedly to ask questions about SAM, the Sustainable Airports Manual Daley and Andolino had just unveiled. SAM offers airports all over the world the opportunity to implement green strategies and technologies into their design, civil and structural engineering, and construction based on the lessons the O’Hare Modernization Program has learned during the past several years.
However, the reporters from the major networks were more concerned about biodegradable containers used in food service. (Concessions and Tenants will be one chapter in SAM.) The reporters wanted to know: Will a burger in such a container cost consumers more? Where will airports biodegrade these containers and wrappers? Does the FAA allow these containers to biodegrade on-site? Seriously, there had to have been at least five questions about biodegradable containers! I raised my hand to steer the conversation back to buildings and land use. However, I couldn’t help but think on my train-ride home that if the national media doesn’t understand how buildings contribute to climate change—to the point where they can’t ask intelligent questions about buildings--then a lot of consumers won’t be given the opportunity to understand either.
As part of the green-building industry, you and I can easily repeat the statistics about how much energy and water our nation’s buildings consume, but it doesn’t seem to me that Joe Consumer has ever heard these statistics. I guess I had thought (or maybe hoped) the Obama administration’s emphasis on energy efficiency and the available tax rebates and other incentives to improve the efficiency of buildings would help most consumers understand their buildings impact the environment. Is there a disconnect about why these incentives are offered to them? Would most consumers rather ignore taking steps toward better efficiency because humans, in general, don’t like changing their routines—whether that means recycling, driving less or choosing windows with a better U-value even though they’re not the cheaper ones? Is it a matter of educating consumers beyond first cost? Or, worst of all, are consumers thinking: “This climate-change thing isn’t going to happen in my lifetime. Let the next generations deal with it.”? (Believe me, I’ve heard that one!)
I want to hear from you. What aren’t we doing right when it comes to educating consumers? What needs to change? How can we, as the Eco-Logic community, educate the people around us without appearing to be know-it-alls? After all, if consumers are educated about their buildings’ impacts, it will make your jobs designing, constructing and operating those buildings easier.
Share your thoughts or things you have done to educate your friends, neighbors and communities. I, for one, will follow your lead!