Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


October 16, 2005

The Power of Not — Using None Conserves Most

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Big Things,Conservation – Tom Harrison – 10:20 pm

I am a software manager and developer for my work. When you need software to do something new, most developers will start thinking “how am I going to do this”. I think the first question to ask should be “does this need to be done at all”, and if so then “has anyone else done it already”. I have found that the fastest, most reliable delivery, fewest risks and the fewest bugs are those projects that you figure out how not to do.

Likewise when it comes to conserving energy, by far the biggest percentage win is in finding ways not to do something that would otherwise use energy. My unused 100 watt light bulb is infinitely more efficient than the 15W compact fluorescent I have turned on, right?

I think the mindset of conservation is “use less”, and as an overall goal, that’s the objective. But many specific opportunities arise where the best option is to do nothing. So don’t turn on a light you do not need. Got a long commute? Don’t go to work — telecommute instead. Don’t turn up the heat or AC. Buy online rather than driving to a mall, or better yet, don’t buy something you don’t really need.

I think we have come to have habits and practices that, like turning on an extra light, provide little or no value, but we do them because that’s what we are used to doing. And it’s all the little things we do, and sometimes big things, like buying a bigger car or house that we don’t really need to do, but we do because that’s what everyone else is doing.

I think there’s danger in looking at the “big wins” first, because I guess that there’s as much to be gained by making many small incremental changes. And there’s another aspect of looking at the little things that is good: it creates awareness of choices we make, which for me, at least, are often almost unconscious. A few weeks ago, I started being conscious of making sure to use the cold water tap if I am just washing my hands since I am done before the hot water starts coming anyway (courtesy of a great website and daily tip email called Ideal Bite). I think in a few weeks I might have saved 10 or 20 gallons of hot water.

As I get in the mindset of saving, I have been looking for things not to do. As my wife will attest, not doing things is one of my greatest talents :-)

There’s power in not doing things.

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