Forget the Informed Consumer – Make the Sustainable Decision the Easy Decision

There are a number of apps that provide information that will help us be more sustainable.  I looked at one recently that had won awards and would help me determine the financial savings of a CFL compared to an incandescent bulb.  There are apps that let you switch your home devices on and off from your hotel, check the charge on your EV from the living room, and assess the sustainability credentials of a product while in the store.

I have written and even made videos about some of these.

But I am increasingly of the opinion that they are apps for apps sake and mobility for mobility’s sake. The concept is intriguing, but it is not going to save the world.  Patronizing as it may sound, the informed consumer is not doing very well at maintaining their own health and nutrition. How much less can we rely on the informed consumer to save the world for others?

Rather than give consumers information, we need to take the decision out of the hands of the consumer and make the sustainable decision the easy decision. How can Information Communications Technology help us do that?  Through the “connected” concept.  The connected home, connected car, connected city.

Consider Unilever’s often repeated challenge that one of the largest parts of their carbon footprint is the temperature at which we chose to wash our clothes.  Culturally we have been conditioned to use as high a wash temperature as possible – we think that hot equals cleaner.

Imagine instead a sensor equipped washing machine. Through embedded chips, the sensor detects what clothing is in the machine.   I scan the bar code on the side of the detergent box to allow the machine to sense which detergent I am using. The washing machine zips off to the cloud through my broadband connection to retrieve the lowest possible wash temperature for that machine, clothing and detergent combination.   If Unilever changes the detergent formulation, no need for the consumer to do anything different. Just change the data in the cloud and the machine washes at an even lower temperature.

I have seen the consumer home management systems that will allow me to set my home thermostat temperature from my hotel room using my mobile device, or signal that I am leaving the office, in order to have the house warmed up. Who wants to do be doing anything like that?  I barely remember to call home to let my family know what time to expect me for dinner.

Although I haven’t tried them yet, I like the look of these two solutions in the USA and the UK respectively.  They learn my behavior, my likes and dislikes. They ‘sense’ whether I am home with motion detectors and can ‘sense’ the outdoor temperature from internet sources. They take an educated guess at where to set the thermostat at any particular time.

These two solutions may not be the ones that take off, but the combination of sensing devices, connectivity and intelligent applications will enable us to take sustainability decisions out of the hands of the consumer and make the sustainable decision the easy one.  The challenge we need to address is the cross-sector collaboration we need to make it work.


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