Tuesday, June 03, 2008

“Market Driven” Trumps “Shoulds”

To me the experience of the past drought points out the practicality of “market incentive/disincentive” vs. preaching “shoulds.”

It isn’t likely that anyone considers themselves a “water glutton” when they hear the term, any more than people who absent-mindedly contribute to road side liter identify themselves as “litterers.” Even when we buy into the “should” as in “you should conserve” it is human nature to assume “we do” and “they don’t.”

And of course there are people who seize issues like this with tenacity, wrap them around another agenda and use words like “coerce.” They are easy to spot because they automatically demean the motives of others, usually to make others look stupid or immoral to make a point. That approach rarely works either.

What does work or market driven incentives like the new tiered system for water rates where the more you use, the more you pay per unit. Government should ratchet that up to just the point where people begin conserving because it makes sense. But this won’t make sense or work as well during times when water is going over the dam and into the ocean. Times like those will require something more than the conservation message and rely more on other logic, like the need to pay for infrastructure.

Another problem with “you should” is that it often leads people to try to tackle 100% of the problem no matter how small or big rather than selectively targeting the 20% of people or businesses who contribute to 80% of the problem. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to obsess with whether water is serviced at a banquet or restaurant vs. mandating hotels and restaurants to install updated low flow devices.

The latter will rapidly address 80% of the problem by focusing on a smaller group (20%) while the 100% solution is very inefficient and costly.

Keep in mind that an upscale restaurant of say 100+ seats will serve about 7 gallons of drinking water a night or about 1/5th what is used to wash a load of clothes or “half” what it takes to flush only once a toilet that hasn’t been upgraded. They also have high efficiency dishwashers.

A banquet of 300 might use 18 gallons or about the same amount required to run a dishwasher once or to take a shower…even low flow. When one table is preset and no one shows, it might use 1.6 gallons or much less than one person brushing their teeth.

We’ll get to “real” vs. “perceived” conservation more quickly and efficiently by focusing on where we can make the biggest impact first…vs. trying to eat the elephant whole.

Another way to look at it….do we really feel more safe flying because we’re spending billions to require every single commercial airline passenger to forfeit tweezers and bottled water? Or would we feel even more safe if we knew officials were deploying the billions of dollars into systems profiling and targeting the minute number likely to commit a crime?

No comments: