The power of feedback

Sierra magazine’s  The Green Life blog offers up another couple of examples of one of my favourite themes: the importance of getting direct information on the costs of your activities. Specifically, smart meters that a couple of electricity suppliers are installing for their customers (meters that can measure power use by the minute or second, and charge according to the price of power at the moment it’s used), and a recycling-collection outfit that hands out reward vouchers to people who recycle more.

One of the worst, and best, things about exercising in a gym is the little control panel on the cardio machines that tells me how many calories I’ve burned. It’s only a rough approximation, of course, but it makes clear the significance of my nutritional choices at other times of the day. When I eat a chocolate bar, I know that it’s bad for me, but without the feedback from the calorie-burn counter, my idea of just how bad the candy bar is is impossible vague. If I know that five minutes of pleasure from a KitKat is going to mean half a bloody hour on the bike, though…

With other kinds of consumption, there’s no better supplier of feedback than price. With something like electricity, if you’ve been accustomed to paying a flat rate for power, it can be a really nasty shock to find out what your habits actually cost, but that shock is the first stage before changing your habits to be less of a glutton.

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