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Kill-a-Watt and Other Products That Actually Help

In his column today, Cliff Kuang makes the point that "eco-friendly" consumerism doesn't reduce your carbon footprint. To do that, he says, you...


In his column today, Cliff Kuang makes the point that "eco-friendly" consumerism doesn't reduce your carbon footprint. To do that, he says, you should just not buy extra stuff and focus on changing your overall habits of consumption.He's right, of course. In terms of environmental impact, buying a bamboo T-shirt might be marginally better than buying a T-shirt made of some other material, but it's a lot worse than just not buying superfluous T-shirts.But there are still those rare products that have a positive net effect on the planet. I would place energy meters in that camp. Ihabitat has a great post up that profiles a few of the best domestic energy meters out there. They come with a range of features (and prices: $20 to $280) but the common thread is that each gives you real-time information about how much power your house is using in killowatt-hours. That is a first-and essential-step in stanching waste.Many people might just not think about energy consumption much at all because they only get feedback once a month in the form of a bill. With one of these meters you can get direct, immediate proof that turning off a light or unplugging a computer saves money.In my house, for example, the Kill-a-Watt would be particularly useful. I live with five other people. When it comes to the electricity bill, there's a collective action problem. Because we split the bill evenly, if one person takes drastic steps to reduce his or her energy consumption, the savings are shared among everyone, rather than enjoyed by the more consciencious person. Likewise, if a roommate is in the habit of leaving the lights on all the time, the cost of that waste is split evenly among us all. If we had Kill-a-Watts plugged in in our rooms we could split the bill by use, and structure incentives to minimize waste.Whatever the environmental cost of producing one of these gizmos, I'm pretty confident the net effect would even out in a few years at most and then start to pay off.