Have you ever considered washing a single item of clothing in your washing machine?

Apparently, if you're the proud owner of an energy- or water-efficient washer, you're more likely to do just that.

This kind of behavior, as chronicled in a 2008 report from University of Michigan economist Lucas Davis, goes hand-in-glove with the findings of a study just out from The Shelton Group. It offers a new wrinkle on the "Snackwells Effect" -- what happens when dieters think they can get away with eating a whole box of Snackwells (for instance) low-calorie cookies. You know, because they're "healthy."

The news comes from the Shelton Group's Utility Pulse survey, which surveyed people around the country to find if they're taking steps to be more energy efficient. The findings are revealing, a bit concerning, but not entirely surprising.

Almost 33 percent of respondents to the survey said they have taken steps to be more energy efficient, but still say they're not seeing the savings in their energy bills.

It could be in part because of the Snackwells Effect. From an article in USA Today:
People who install efficient lights lose 5%-12% of the expected energy savings by leaving them on longer, said Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez of the non-profit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. People who buy an efficient furnace lose 10%-30% of their savings, probably from raising the thermostat, she said.

"It doesn't mean energy efficiency is a waste of time," says Sussex University's Steve Sorrell, who wrote a 2007 report for the federally funded UK Energy Research Centre on the phenomenon, which economists call the takeback effect. It does mean that "standards on efficiency will not be sufficient by themselves."
On top of the finding the people aren't seeing the savings from their energy efficient purchases, the Utility Pulse survey found that most people don't believe they're using any more electricity than they used to.

According to a post on the Shelton Group's blog:
61% of the population told us in our Energy Pulse® study that they’re not using more electricity today than they were five years ago, yet, as a nation, our consumption increased 10%. In Utility Pulse, a little over 70% tell us that they think their homes are efficient…but about the same number also told us their homes are over 20 years old. So it’s unlikely those homes are, in fact, efficient.
This looks to me like the word is getting out about energy efficient products -- whether CFLs or Energy Star washing machines -- but that companies and others need to go beyond just messaging to actual education about conservation. And that's exactly the message from a great post we ran just yesterday from Suzanne Shelton, the president and namesake of the group that conducts the Utility Pulse survey:
Obviously, the missing link is education. But that piece is tricky. Most consumers don't want to hear a big list of things they're doing wrong or a list of things they need to change or a list of threats of what will happen if they don't change their ways. (It never worked when your mother used those tactics did it?) Yet most green marketing boils down to exactly that.

Bottom line: If you want to motivate a consumer to make a sustainable choice, you've got to tell him what's in it for him.
Hat tip to Megan Toth at Flex Your Power, who drew my attention to this story.