We try to be good, energy-aware Earth citizens. We really do. Still, we forget to turn off the lights. We leave the television plugged in even when we're not watching. And we relish a long, hot shower every so often. Only when the electric bill arrives do we whisper a pledge to do better.
It may be that our appliances can help. Researchers at the Interactive Institute's Power Studio in Eskilstuna, Sweden, are working with partner Front Design on housewares that make evident our otherwise invisible energy consumption. "Instead of looking at energy as two holes in the walls, we wanted to bring it much more forward and make people reflect a little bit more," says architect and project leader Christina Ohman.
Can these guilt-trippy devices win favor among Americans, who consume the most energy (by far) in the world? Leonardo Bonanni, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher who also designs so-called tangible user interfaces, doubts we'll buy products that mete out judgments on our profligate energy lifestyle. Rather, he says, "you have to piggyback the persuasion onto things that are useful and beautiful."
Ohman and her team plan to study user reactions with in-home surveys this year. For now, here's what they have in the works:
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.