The Best Green Idea in Obama?
Buried in there was a call for new efficiency standards for appliances. And to me, this idea—the notion of improving environmental performance by imposing higher standards on consumer products—is the most powerful and doable of the bunch. The U.S. is a consumer-driven economy. We won’t make a serious dent in energy consumption until Americans become much more careful with their use of energy. But appealing to a desire for savings is a non-starter. I, like most Americans, prefer the comfort of air conditioning to lower electricity bills. Only a small minority of us are willing to change their behavior for the sake of the planet’s future.
But you can get to consumers through those who make money serving them. In other words, if the government sets higher standards on the people who produce the big-ticket items they sell to American consumers, that can have a big impact. And in recent years, both the Bush and Obama administrations have been clear with companies: if you want to participate in the world’s largest and most wealthy consumer market, you’ve got to up your energy-efficiency game.
Indeed, contrary to the arguments of the pessimists, companies generally manage to meet higher energy-efficiency standards while improving the consumer experience. The government has been regulating the performance of air conditioners and refrigerators for decades. And it’s rare to hear anybody complain that cheap, high-peforming air conditioners and refrigerators are not available in the marketplace.