In a post on Cass Sunstein (new head of OIRA) I mentioned his work with behavioral economics and his book Nudge and wondered, "What other unobtrusive-but-effective green policy tweaks could be made to nudge people toward greener behavior?"

Clearly Sunstein is reading Grist, as he responded a few days later with a piece in the Chicago Tribune: "A gentle prod to go green." After some throat-clearing (and tangential carbon tax shilling) he gets to examples:

In the spirit of [the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act], we suggest that the government immediately create a Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GGI), requiring disclosure by the most significant emitters. The GGI would permit people to see the various sources of greenhouse gases in the United States and to track changes over time. Interested groups, including the media, would draw attention to the largest emitters.

The Toxics Release Inventory has worked a bit like this, allowing green groups to compile "dirtiest" lists and shame big companies. (Incidentally, the Bush administration tried to gut it but failed.) I like it.

Then there’s this:

Early attempts to notify people of their energy use with e-mails and text messages did no good. What worked was to give people something called an Ambient Orb, a little ball that glows red when people are using lots of energy, but green when their use is modest. In a period of weeks, users of the orb reduced their energy consumption during peak times by 40 percent!

More on the Ambient Orb here.

ambient orb

And this:

Wouldn’t it be nice if your home were similarly equipped, so you could flip one switch as you leave home and turn out all the lights but not the clocks?

All this stuff is fantastic. It’s all a species of making the invisible visible, which folks in the bright green community have been on about for ages.

What I have more trouble seeing is how it adds up to any kind of federal program. So many of the things you could think of along these lines are technology development, utility programs … I want to see more examples that Sunstein could actually affect in his role at OIRA.

You reading, Prof. Sunstein? More federal examples!