Changing Minds to Change Light Bulbs

Q: I am eager for my parents to use less energy in our home. I think it will be an easy way for my family to make an impact on climate change. My parents are uninterested; is there a way to get them interested?

A: It is frustrating when people we love are not equally excited about our passions. Even if an individual is less concerned about their impact on the environment, they are often motivated by saving money or becoming more comfortable in their homes. Communication skills are important in making progress with our family members, peers, community and world.

Three basic communication tools that you can use with your uninterested parents are reflect, inspect and deflect.

Respect their viewpoint by reflecting, which is restating their reasoning using different words to make sure you both are on the same page. For example, “You are worried that switching to CFL light bulbs will make the rooms dimly lit.” Your parents will respond with “Yes!” or they will tell you they are more worried about the bulbs looking funny.

The next step is to inspect their motivations and source of information. Perhaps they don’t know that some CFLs and LEDs look like incandescent bulbs. Do they know ENERGY STAR® CFLs and LEDs last 10 to 25 times longer and use one quarter of the electricity than incandescent bulbs? Your mother may love the idea that climbing a ladder to replace dead light bulbs in the foyer chandelier will be a rare chore if she makes this change. Doing a little math to show the dollar savings can go a long way. Express your message to meet your audience’s interests.

Deflecting is when you agree to disagree. Your dad doesn’t want to seem like a “tree hugger” by having energy efficient bulbs in his home. Over time, you can present him with morsels of information to gain his interest. Patience is key. Humor is also a way to break down this barrier.

I recently chatted with North Carolina high school students who are serving in a year-long fellowship with the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) – a national nonprofit educating America’s high school students about the science behind climate change and inspiring them to take action. These North Carolina teens strive to break away from the “tree hugger” stigma by working with respected groups, role models and community organizations. They stressed that community movements are more influential than their individual voices.

These teens have recently teamed up with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension E-Conservation program – a program that educates and empowers North Carolina residents to reduce energy use and increase energy efficiency. The students have attended numerous trainings with ACE and E-Conservation to help them better understand the “why” and “how” of saving energy. Part of their training included job shadowing a home energy contractor as his crew inspected and improved a Durham home. Now the students are tasked with conducting two home energy audits and creating do-it-yourself videos and articles that highlight their work with E-Conservation. Bailey Recktenwald an ACE Fellow and Wake Electric Cooperative customer is excited about making a do-it-yourself video for households that will be shared across the country. She hopes that her volunteer efforts with ACE and E-Conservation will “inspire people in [her] community to make minor adjustments to their lives in order to save energy and money.”

Consider joining other passionate youth like Bailey through organizations like ACE or your school’s environmental club to strategize and make a difference in your community.

This article was originally featured in Carolina Country magazine.