Jump to content

Why going green won't make you better


CSpec

Recommended Posts

Why going green won't make you better or save you money

Washington Post

Like most Whole Foods shoppers, David Bain thinks he is a decent citizen of Earth. His family buys mostly organic food. They recycle. He recently fortified his green credentials by removing a leaking oil tank in his yard.

But here's a head scratcher: Though the Bains live in Arlington within walking distance of Whole Foods [CSpec plug: this is where I live!], they often drive there in an SUV that gets just 19 miles per gallon. He has noticed that his SUV is not alone in the lot.

Does that make Bain a hypocrite? He paused before responding: "I could see how people would come to that conclusion, but I don't have the illusion that people's decision-making is always logical."

We drink Diet Coke -- with Quarter Pounders and fries at McDonald's. We go to the gym -- and ride the elevator to the second floor. We install tankless water heaters -- then take longer showers. We drive SUVs to see Al Gore's speeches on global warming.

These behavioral riddles beg explanation, and social psychologists are offering one in new studies. The academic name for such quizzical behavior is moral licensing. It seems that we have a good/bad balance sheet in our heads that we're probably not even aware of. For many people, doing good makes it easier -- and often more likely -- to do bad. It works in reverse, too: Do bad, then do good.

"We have these internal negotiations going in our heads all day, even if we don't know it," said Benoît Monin, a social psychologist who studies moral licensing at Stanford University. "People's past behavior literally gives them license to do that next thing, which might not be good."

The implications of moral licensing are vast, stretching beyond consumer decisions and into politics and environmental policy. Monin published a study showing that voters given an opportunity to endorse Barack Obama for president were more likely to later favor white people for job openings. Social psychologists point to government standards for fuel efficiency as another example of moral licensing at work: Automakers can sell a certain number of gas guzzlers as long as their overall fleet achieves a specified miles-per-gallon rating.

"There are so many contradictions in today's world, especially when it comes to green issues," said Keith Ware, who has watched with raised eyebrows as Hummers pull up to his environmentally sensitive appliance store, Eco-Green Living, near the nuclear-free zone of Takoma Park.

From a theoretical perspective, the research has shown that "it's like we can withdraw from our moral bank accounts," Monin said. "It's a lens through which you see the rest of your behavior. But it may not even be conscious."

This seemingly contradictory behavior is all around us, but it is probably most apparent, and easy to lampoon, in the greening of America.

University of Toronto behavioral marketing professor Nina Mazar showed in a recent study that people who bought green products were more likely to cheat and steal than those who bought conventional products. One of Mazar's experiments invited participants to shop either at online stores that carry mainly green products or mainly conventional products. Then they played a game that allowed them to cheat to make more money. The shoppers from the green store were more dishonest than those at the conventional store, which brought them higher earnings in the game.

"People do not make decisions in a vacuum; their decisions are embedded in a history of behaviors," Mazar wrote, with co-author Chen-Bo Zhong. "Purchasing green products may license indulgence in self-interested and unethical behaviors."

Local home-appliance and building contractors who specialize in green products see examples of such indulgence almost every day. They have begun to warn customers that installing green products in their homes does not give them license to overconsume: Don't run the plasma TV all night just because you put solar panels on your roof; don't take endless showers because your water is heated off the grid; don't do more loads of laundry because your machine is energy-efficient.

There is ample reason for such warnings.

Lucas Davis, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley, has published a study showing that after getting high-efficiency washers, consumers increased clothes washing by nearly 6 percent. Other studies show that people leave energy-efficient lights on longer. A recent study by the Shelton Group, which advocates for sustainable consumer choices, showed that of 500 people who had greened their homes, a third saw no reduction in bills.

"Subconsciously, I think this is just part of human nature," said Jason Holstine, owner of Amicus Green Building Center in the Kensington. "It's like, 'If I just do a little, I'm off the hook and my conscious is clear. Give me a pat on the back, and thank you very much.' Then it goes too far."

"They think, 'I'm being a good person, I can do more of this stuff and still come out ahead,' " said Frank Zeman, director of the Center for Metropolitan Sustainability at New York Institute of Technology. "Although the problem is that they will never come out ahead. This goes to the heart of the sustainability challenge."

But for luxury retailers, this behavior is often a boon. Uzma Khan, a marketing professor at Stanford who studies the psychology of buying, once asked study participants to choose between buying a vacuum cleaner or designer jeans. Participants who were asked to imagine having committed a virtuous act before shopping were significantly more likely to choose jeans than those not thinking of themselves as virtuous.

"That's the amazing thing here: People don't even have to do good for this effect to happen," Khan said. "Even if they plan to do something good, it will give them a boost in their self-image. Any type of situation where you have guilt involved, you will see this, and so this happens in luxury goods."

And neither the customer nor the retailer could know it's happening.

Moral licensing behavior extends, in a different way, into dieting. Khan showed in a study last year that people ate more chocolate while drinking Diet Coke than while drinking more, sugary fare. Dietitians in the region report all sorts of odd justifications from clients eating bad food while trying to lose weight. Rovenia Brock, a District dietitian, says she has clients keep a food and activity diary because it is the only way for them to see that ordering a diet soda at McDonald's is slowing their progress.

Without the diary, "it's helter-skelter and their behavior will be all over the place," Brock said. "It's like spaghetti on the wall." When they write down their behavior, the inequitable trade-offs come into full view -- if they don't lie. Many clients, uncomfortable with seeing the truth revealed in their diary, simply leave it out, she said.

Brock said she sympathizes with clients who engage in moral licensing. It turns out that she's not so different from them. All her diet counseling apparently makes it easier for her to decide to gulp down a pint of Haagen-Dazs banana split ice cream.

"I feel like I deserve to have it," she said. "I know I'm gonna work out, work it off, blah, blah, blah. It starts out with a cup, and then later on I can hear it calling me from the freezer. One scoop turns into another. Like my clients, if I pick up the pint and put in a spoon, I'm done. That's my goose cooked, royally."

  • Downvote 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

showed that of 500 people who had greened their homes, a third saw no reduction in bills.

I know that on this point, I haven't really seen any reduction in my bills, but I have seen a reduction in my kWh used. I'm a stickler for not leaving lights on even though my whole house is CFL.

Unfortunately, the price has increased for me over the years.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The economic way of thinking would lead you to expect this phenomenon. When you make something cheaper, people will consume more of it. Duh. For another similar story that is the bane of paternalists, see this Wikipedia entry:

http://en.wikipedia....Peltzman_effect

Well.... only somewhat.

If you already leave the lights on all the time, going to CFLs will eventually save you energy and money.

The thing I'm confused about is the laundry thing. Most of the HE washers are high capacity, so you can do all the towels in one load instead of two. Are people really wearing 6% more clothing? Albert and I already seem to go through a ridiculous amount of laundry a week... and I'm not sure how. I'm struggling to understand how someone can actually increase laundry usage just because they got a HE washer.

I understand what you're saying about making something cheaper and people will use more of it.... I just don't see that happening with laundry.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oldsmoboi - Let me provide you with a nasty example that shows how a HE washer could actually increase the volume of laundry done.

My parents are the part owners of an optometry business with two offices. They brought in a young new optometrist on contract to take care of extra patient load. The man was still clearly in university party mode, and didn't have his life organized enough to do laundry on a regular basis. When they questioned him about a dirty shirt he wore in one day, he admitted that he didn't have any completely clean ones at home, and did the 'sniff test' to find the least dirty one.

If he had an HE washer, his occasional bouts of laundry would last him longer and he'd do more laundry overall.

I realize that's a wierd case, but I'm just pointing out that it could happen.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The fantasy as I see it is- less energy usage overall will eventually cause INCREASED cost per utilities. They have stockholders to satisfy.

It's already been reported that water conservation/more efficient fixtures in some areas have forced rate increases.

That individuals aren't/won't see much in the way of savings is no surprise to me. My elec rates are much higher year-over-year on the same usage.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I try to be a little greener because it's the right thing to do. I buy many of my groceries at Whole Foods because I'm lazy; I'd rather pay more than have to read every fricken label on everything to see if hydrogenated oils, preservatives, or high-fructose corn syrup is in a product...or if the ingredient list reads like a biochemistry book index. I'd love to get a tankless heater because it's space-efficient, with the added savings just being icing on the cake.

Also, how would one NOT net savings from a tankless heater, even if they took longer showers? Let's just say you shower for 2 hrs. That means the tankless heater works for 2 hrs to heat the water...versus 24/7 for the tank heater, which heats and reheats water to maintain the set temperature, whether the water is used or not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Usually, municipalities charge for water usage.

Those tankless water heaters seem cool though.

Tank vs. tankless is all about energy costs of heating said water. The relevant comparison figure, water HEATING costs, would be less with a tankless.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As with everything, the 'bottom line' is worth consideration.

'Tankless' systems are comparitively extremely expensive to buy/install.

This, from the oracle of truth :rolleyes: Consumer Reports ~

>>"Gas tankless water heaters, which use high-powered burners to quickly heat water as it runs through a heat exchanger, were 22 percent more energy efficient on average than the gas-fired storage-tank models in our tests. That translates into a savings of around $70 to $80 per year, based on 2008 national energy costs. But because they cost much more than storage water heaters, it can take up to 22 years to break even— longer than the 20-year life of many models. Moreover, our online poll of 1,200 readers revealed wide variations in installation costs, energy savings, and satisfaction."<<

My B-I-L is in the HVA/C / plumbing business, he said they are around $2500 installed. My last gas water heater (6 yrs ago) was about $300.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting that no one has commented on what I think are the two most interesting quotes:

"voters given an opportunity to endorse Barack Obama for president were more likely to later favor white people for job openings."

"people who bought green products were more likely to cheat and steal than those who bought conventional products."

  • Upvote 1
  • Downvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What about tankless electric water heaters? Also, government rebates/tax incentives certainly reduce the cost further.

I have never heard of electric heating in any capacity to be cheaper or even competitive with gas.

houseneeds.com (random googling) claims electric tankless are NOT eligible for the tax credit.

Taking the tax off the purchase/installation (gas tankless) helps, sure, but you are still looking at over a decade to 'get ahead' financially... if the unit lasts that long. Then, dedicated to the tankless system, you face another much-more-than-a-tank bill all over again- likely withOUT the tax credit then.

It's just not abundantly clear if it works out to save you money or not.

I like the idea of tankless, but the reliabilty/longevity is unknown to me, and I'm not switching over if the ante' stays anywhere in the neighborhood it's in.

Edited by balthazar
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have never heard of electric heating in any capacity to be cheaper or even competitive with gas.

houseneeds.com (random googling) claims electric tankless are NOT eligible for the tax credit.

Taking the tax off the purchase/installation (gas tankless) helps, sure, but you are still looking at over a decade to 'get ahead' financially... if the unit lasts that long. Then, dedicated to the tankless system, you face another much-more-than-a-tank bill all over again- likely withOUT the tax credit then.

It's just not abundantly clear if it works out to save you money or not.

I like the idea of tankless, but the reliabilty/longevity is unknown to me, and I'm not switching over if the ante' stays anywhere in the neighborhood it's in.

Perfectly understandable. I haven't checked in a while, but I know that tankless units at least used to be eligible for tax credits/rebates. They probably make the most sense for income properties, with the inherent write-offs in that scenario.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I lived in HK, each bathroom was equipped with its own tankless LPG water heater. They're maintained by Shell and were fairly inexpensive, and more important, they were quick and effective at making water hot. Some units had solar heaters though I don't know how those work..

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That price sounds a bit on the high end Balthy. I can walk into Home Depot today and pick one up for about $650. It's not like they require special plumbing.

Likely Apples and Oranges being compared here... You can get smaller tankless HW heaters for cheap... but on big one for a house will be more. Then there is the question of durability. Some of these tankless units have rusted right out. For a propane Bosch unit for a 1300 sq ft house, it was $1000... based on the idea of using one major and one minor use of hot water at a time. So someone could take a shower and someone could wash their hands, but shower and running the washer would be out. If you want a unit that can handle multiple major concurrent use the price goes up. Same with the energy source... big Electric units are very expense and require a non-trivial electrical hook up, as the electric elements just can't transfer heat like a burner unit.

Useless the market price has crashed, $650 sounds like a smaller unit that might carry a fairly short warranty from a iffy brand. You might need 2 or 3 of these to do a large home. But I don't follow this market anymore... so for all know they are giving them out free with a purchase of a sandwich.

So, based on what I saw when I was shopping for a unit, lets say Balthy is being quoted for a 2000K sq ft house... I could see $1500 for a good unit and $1000 for the labor to put in water lines, fuel lines and exhaust. HVAC guys aren't exactly cheap.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well.... only somewhat.

If you already leave the lights on all the time, going to CFLs will eventually save you energy and money.

The thing I'm confused about is the laundry thing. Most of the HE washers are high capacity, so you can do all the towels in one load instead of two. Are people really wearing 6% more clothing? Albert and I already seem to go through a ridiculous amount of laundry a week... and I'm not sure how. I'm struggling to understand how someone can actually increase laundry usage just because they got a HE washer.

I understand what you're saying about making something cheaper and people will use more of it.... I just don't see that happening with laundry.

I replaced most of the lights in my house with CFL's starting 2+ years ago. My electric bills never went down, the light quality sucks, and they sure as fk don't last "7 years". But i leave them in primarily because they have gotten cheaper, do last a while longer than incandescents. Mostly I leave them in because they don't put off heat. I am still waiting for them to start quicker. It's really stupid to be green to introduce mercury into the bulbs. Break one and expose your kid to poisoning, nice.

I have an HE washer, but I got one before the big HE boom. The reason i got it had more to do with better cleaning of clothes and not beating them up. If the washer heats the water, it cleans better, and front load will always keep your clothes from getting beat to &#036;h&#33; like they do in the old vertical / agitator style.

All that said, i would scream to the hills to everyone to avoid Asko laundry equipment like the plague. The washer cleans clothes nicely, but it just goes to show you another reason why scandinavian style thinking is often more flawed than with merit.

The fantasy as I see it is- less energy usage overall will eventually cause INCREASED cost per utilities. They have stockholders to satisfy.

It's already been reported that water conservation/more efficient fixtures in some areas have forced rate increases.

That individuals aren't/won't see much in the way of savings is no surprise to me. My elec rates are much higher year-over-year on the same usage.

exactly, it just forces them to push the prices up even more.

they will get your money, they would love to get more of it by giving you less. we are all fools.

this applies to gasoline as well. problem is, gasoline is hard to find and pump and may or may not run out......

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I try to be a little greener because it's the right thing to do. I buy many of my groceries at Whole Foods because I'm lazy; I'd rather pay more than have to read every fricken label on everything to see if hydrogenated oils, preservatives, or high-fructose corn syrup is in a product...or if the ingredient list reads like a biochemistry book index. I'd love to get a tankless heater because it's space-efficient, with the added savings just being icing on the cake.

Also, how would one NOT net savings from a tankless heater, even if they took longer showers? Let's just say you shower for 2 hrs. That means the tankless heater works for 2 hrs to heat the water...versus 24/7 for the tank heater, which heats and reheats water to maintain the set temperature, whether the water is used or not.

everything i hear regarding tankles heaters is that they basically don't work as advertised. they are great point of consumption 'boosters'. I would install them as an additional convenience heater where plumbing runs lead to heat loss. I wouldn't depend on one for a main source of heat.

There is great potential in having a main tank and just keeping it at a temperature. It can be linked to solar, geothermal, etc....and radiant floor...

I have never heard of electric heating in any capacity to be cheaper or even competitive with gas.

houseneeds.com (random googling) claims electric tankless are NOT eligible for the tax credit.

Taking the tax off the purchase/installation (gas tankless) helps, sure, but you are still looking at over a decade to 'get ahead' financially... if the unit lasts that long. Then, dedicated to the tankless system, you face another much-more-than-a-tank bill all over again- likely withOUT the tax credit then.

It's just not abundantly clear if it works out to save you money or not.

I like the idea of tankless, but the reliabilty/longevity is unknown to me, and I'm not switching over if the ante' stays anywhere in the neighborhood it's in.

I see no sceario how tankless is more 'green'. It just shifts where you heat the water. If its electric, you're burning coal that a miner got cancer retrieving to make the electricity to heat it in line.....

That price sounds a bit on the high end Balthy. I can walk into Home Depot today and pick one up for about $650. It's not like they require special plumbing.

large regular water heater tanks can be had for like 400 bucks.

Edited by regfootball
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Likely Apples and Oranges being compared here... You can get smaller tankless HW heaters for cheap... but on big one for a house will be more. Then there is the question of durability. Some of these tankless units have rusted right out. For a propane Bosch unit for a 1300 sq ft house, it was $1000... based on the idea of using one major and one minor use of hot water at a time. So someone could take a shower and someone could wash their hands, but shower and running the washer would be out. If you want a unit that can handle multiple major concurrent use the price goes up. Same with the energy source... big Electric units are very expense and require a non-trivial electrical hook up, as the electric elements just can't transfer heat like a burner unit.

Useless the market price has crashed, $650 sounds like a smaller unit that might carry a fairly short warranty from a iffy brand. You might need 2 or 3 of these to do a large home. But I don't follow this market anymore... so for all know they are giving them out free with a purchase of a sandwich.

So, based on what I saw when I was shopping for a unit, lets say Balthy is being quoted for a 2000K sq ft house... I could see $1500 for a good unit and $1000 for the labor to put in water lines, fuel lines and exhaust. HVAC guys aren't exactly cheap.

the main thing with hot water is to have the tank close to the point of consumption. It might make sense in a typical house to have two tanks if your plumbing is grouped in two highly separated groups. An engineer could spend days engineering the optimal scenario, but housing costs to build are all generated from the concept of showing up on site and Joe Plumber puts in 'typical stuff' 'without having to think' to 'industry accepted normal' methods. By saving you all that brain power, they keep their bid low and keep your new home price from being much higher than it already is. time = money.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, based on what I saw when I was shopping for a unit, lets say Balthy is being quoted for a 2000K sq ft house... I could see $1500 for a good unit and $1000 for the labor to put in water lines, fuel lines and exhaust. HVAC guys aren't exactly cheap.

That's it: I asked my B-I-L about a unit for my house, slightly over 2000 sq ft. Going rate for HVA/C work is $175 to show up & $75/hr labor. Plus you kno they're doubling parts costs (AT LEAST). Don't forget- in an existing house, besides the new plumbing necc, they are taking out the OLD unit. New construction would be cheaper.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, you can't say that all greening is a bad idea and not cost effective.

I spent $1700 (I think, it was 6 year ago) to have blow in insulation put into my house. It made a tremendous difference in both comfort level and gas usage. Once I replace my furnace that was installed in April 1950, I'll probably see another bump down in gas usage and an increase in comfort again.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You are posting as a guest. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.




About us

CheersandGears.com - Founded 2001

We ♥ Cars

Get in touch

Follow us

Recent tweets

facebook

×
×
  • Create New...