Holding out for a hero

November 22, 2013

I just got back from the Behavior, Energy and Climate Conference (BECC) where I participated in a panel on storytelling. Would you be surprised if I told you that 3 out of the 4 panelists, myself included, made reference to superheroes when characterizing energy efficiency?

The panel inspired a rousing discussion about whether energy efficiency really is the superhero that advocates claim it to be. Despite the fact that energy efficiency has already saved us from billions of dollars of energy waste over the last 40 years, there was still doubt in the room as to its hero status.

To give rise to a superhero, there needs to be something to be saved from. There needs to be some evil menace that is threatening our way of life that we need to fight back against.

For energy efficiency, the legion of doom includes both dirty energy and energy waste. It is relatively easy to convey the threats of dirty energy – air pollution, oil spills, mountain top removal, asthma and more.

But what about energy waste? Energy waste is essentially the “phantom” menace. We can’t see it, taste it or touch it. So how do we give rise to a superhero to do battle with an enemy that most people don’t realize exist?

The answer lies in relating energy waste to our target audiences’ ingrained fears and biases – such as our culture’s distain for wastefulness or fears around financial security. So an effective messaging strategy might be to position energy waste as irresponsible, shameful and downright un-American, or as threatening the livelihoods of our families and communities.

To give rise to our superhero, we also need to effectively convey what we are fighting for – again in a way that relates to what audiences hold dear – such as taking back control from big corporations, giving power back to the people, or fighting for the rights of families and communities to determine their own energy future.

These are just a few ideas and hypothesis. We need to be testing what works and doesn’t work. Until then, energy efficiency may continue to be America’s unsung energy superhero.

To keep the conversation going, we put together a new page, complete with a fun slideshow about our unsung hero. Have you seen other great examples of energy efficiency imagery? Let us know in the comments section below.

Debbie Slobe