I find a lot of the commentary on what we will have to do to achieve energy independence and to adjust to a time of scarcity to be misguided. Telling Americans they have to “sacrifice” and “conserve” sounds good, but is not sustainable over the long term.
On the contrary, finding ways in which to conserve energy or reduce spending that actually are perceived as beneficial to individuals is far more likely to succeed and be sustainable. Why does the “sacrifice” or “conserve” message not work?
- Telling anyone to sacrifice will inevitably create the potential for resentment and class warfare, because not everybody will choose to sacrifice equally. Those struggling to succeed will resent such a message because they believe they are already sacrificing.
- I believe that human beings can be in a deprivation mode only during the pendancy of a crisis. If oil prices decline and if their day-to-day situation gets better, they will stop sacrificing, and we will lose the ability to achieve energy independence.
- The wrong kinds of sacrifices will reduce the potential for economic growth and recovery.
So what is the alternative way to solve this problem? With respect to energy conservation, let’s find ways to make less energy usage a positive for Americans. In my testimony to the Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board, which is posted on my blog at www.mikecritelli.com, I make the following suggestions:
- Give more employees the ability to telecommute all or part of the time. This saves them significant commuting cost and hassle, and can increase their productivity by enabling them to use effective mobility tools to get their work done at home or at satellite locations.
- Make more events or activities at work “business casual” to reduce the cost of wardrobe acquisition and maintenance. Many workplaces are already five-day “business casual,” and Pitney Bowes made that decision 11 years ago. However, we can make more events less dressy over time. This may not help specific segments of the fashion industry in the short term, but they can recover over time by adapting to changed consumer demand.
- Shrink the workspaces of employees at work, but provide them with more amenities, such as more conference rooms, more access to light, more environmentally-friendly workspaces, and more common-area amenities, like kitchen areas and fitness spaces. We did that at our headquarters, reduced costs, and increased our employees’ satisfaction with their work spaces significantly.
- Offer services through the mail that individuals today have to access by taking non-work time. For example, give individuals the ability to vote by mail, to get permits and licenses they need by mail, to get more prescription and over-the-counter drugs by mail, and to get more purchased items delivered to them, rather than having them having to take valuable time looking for them.
- At the same time, as we increase delivery options, we should consolidate the number of delivery services that occupy our streets and consume energy and create traffic congestion. The U.S. Postal Service has recently become the carrier for FedEx, UPS, and DHL for residential deliveries in many geographic areas. There are many local delivery services that could consolidate their transportation capabilities and have shared services that would reduce their costs, increase convenience for consumers, and improve the environment.
- The Internet is a wonderful tool to enable individuals to learn who else is traveling somewhere or who has an item that can be borrowed or purchased at a lower cost in order to save resources and consumption. For example, I like the idea that Amazon.com is connecting book purchasers with people wanting to sell used books, instead of having a new book printed to satisfy a consumer’s need.
None of these ideas require individuals to “sacrifice” or “conserve” anything, but, cumulatively, they can produce significant energy savings, reduced cost, and improved consumer satisfaction. Government should be convening private sector innovators to employ some of these ideas and should let the private sector do what it can do best to make some of these ideas more widespread. As an employer, government should also be setting an example in some of these areas.