Opinion: going green by default

By Peter Matthews

Something surprising has happened recently in Switzerland. That in itself could be surprising; Switzerland is not generally known as a country to catch the world off guard.

For a long time the, default electricity offering from two of the country’s energy suppliers was from ‘a mixture of fuels’.

Customers could, if they so desired, then make the choice to change to ‘renewables only’.

Under this system around 3% of consumers would choose to make that change.

Then these two companies decided to try something different: They changed the default offering to ‘renewables’ so that customers would have to make a conscious effort to change back to the mixed fuels, which includes fossil fuels and, importantly, is cheaper.

Four years on from this seemingly minor change, around 80% of the consumers signed up to these two power companies are on the more costly renewables option – a vast increase on the 3% who were on it before.

At first glance I find that surprising, but examples of this ‘default effect’ are everywhere.

I have several subscriptions to software which I have signed up to over the years and don’t use as much as I used to. These companies take money from my credit card every month and happily tell me that they have done it. I see the notices coming in amongst piles of other emails and usually delete them without so much as a second look.

Actually, I did have a bit of a cull a while ago and saved myself quite a bit.

“Well” I hear you think, “perhaps you should be more organised”, and I’m sure some people are.

But how many of you have joined the gym and then never gone near the place?

I know our family has bought a key to the school swimming pool for the past few summers and one year I worked out the cost of our three visits to be $40 each!

I reckon this is worth looking into; there must be hundreds of ways to make green choices the default, thus forcing people deliberately to choose the (probably cheaper) less planet-friendly options if they really want to. Humans are lazy. Actually, nature is lazy, the laws of physics are lazy – in many ways it’s a good way to be.

In the case of the ‘default effect’ there is potential for the laziness of humans to be exploited for the benefit  of the planet. That’s a turnaround isn’t it? Usually it is the humans exploiting the planet for their own benefit.

Of course, we could always just make the right choices of our own volition.

There’s another idea.

PS. I must apologise to all the people who noticed my mistake last week. I spelt Meghan’s name incorrectly and have probably incurred the displeasure of more than a few people for my transgression.

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