Choice Architecture for Energy Saving and How It Creates a Shared Value

Choice architecture can influence decision making in both micro and macro scales, from everyday objects to large skyscrapers. Therefore, it is important for designers and planners alike to come up with a sort of design default, an influence or movement that benefits users in a subtle, skillful way, while maintaining the intended functionality because we are all Humans after all. The following are two examples of how choice architecture comes into play and how it forms a shared value.

Water tab is one micro-scale example. Some people normally turn it on all the way up (or sideways depending on the design), and realize that sometimes, the flow is running too fast and too much for some certain washes. They intuitively do this because the design of the tab is “consistent” with their action that it doesn’t “violate a simple psychological principle” or the “stimulus response compatibility”. (Thaler, Sunstein, 2008, 2009, p. 84) They then adjust the tab to the desired speed of flow that is best for the job.

It would be ideal, as another alternative to the traditional faucet designs, to design tabs that have “steps”, indicated either by the numbers 1 (slowest), 2 and 3 (fastest) or by a simple graphic e.g. the number of drops of water. Each step would have a mechanism that gently prevents the user from going all the way unless s/he needs the largest amount of water in the first place—and the (least resistant) default option would be the number 1 by making it the easiest, or closest to the hand to operate.

Had this kind of design already been on the market, it could have made its way to being a mainstream product. It can potentially take up a portion of the market share, competing with the traditional tab design even within the same manufacturer offering a wide range of products. This idea is not totally new, but we can make it more common just like the dual-flush toilet that is becoming more ubiquitous and at the same time, making consumers aware that there is also this choice. One may argue that we have automatic faucets. True, but it would be great to also design a product that can perform on its own without relying on any additional kind of energy—electricity.

The choice architecture for another example is however, determined by the consumers; the people themselves are the choice architects. The example is Earth Hour. Earth Hour is a global movement aimed at raising awareness of climate change which is organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). It originally began in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Using media as a powerful tool to spread the word and broadcast, it later attracted a lot of countries around the world to join, simply by switching off lights, particularly the non-essential, ornamental ones. It takes place every year on the last Saturday in March from 8:30-9:30 p.m. local time at renowned landmarks, buildings as well as households. Earth Hour 2015 will be on March 28, so let us be informed.

Earth Hour is an example of macro-level choice architecture because of the willingness to participate. The willingness itself is actually an “incentive” as one of the principles for effective choice architecture. I am thrilled every time and curious to know how much we have saved after the electricity in metropolises across the globe was shut down altogether in the period of an hour.

We may not see clearly how much energy we save on the household level and/or the community level, but when the scale is larger, the result is dramatic. This is a huge influence urging people to realize and save more. People are willing to “follow the herd” since everyone is doing it. It would be even better if we were to have this activity more often (not necessarily officially). Instead of one hour once a year, how about we do it twice, or more, or extend it a little over an hour each time? Of course, some people continue on after the official 60 minutes have passed. Again, it may not be so visible in a smaller household scale, but frequency and a little bigger scale can also help. Residents can do the same within their villages and communities. This would then become a tradition and a standard practice from generation to generation.

Shared value doesn’t necessarily occur in the productivity/market-driven context alone, but also in the Earth Hour kind of event, because everybody benefits from conserving energy. Shared value is quintessentially created as it brings communal gains, not only financially, but also socially (the willingness to join among the non-profit/for-profit organizations), and environmentally (less carbon emissions into the atmosphere).

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