As we begin Earth Month, it would seem that we're seeing conventional wisdom turned on its head. I'm talking, of course, about the widespread assumption that college students are spearheading the renewed green movement across our nation. Indeed, it's been thought that the so-called Millennials will help us not only preserve the environment, but build new energy sources for future generations.
And then comes along a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reported in The Huffington Post, that shows a stark decline in energy and environmental activism among our nation's young adults. Indeed, the findings are striking, showing that today's college students, long believed to be the most active and engaged on issues of climate, energy and the environment, are in fact the least engaged in generations. This demographic also just happens to include the largest wasters of energy, as college students aren't typically forced to manage energy bills and therefore don't make efforts to conserve.
These findings are particularly disturbing when you consider that it's between the ages of 16 and 26 that most young adults develop the energy habits they'll carry with them throughout their adult life.
Well, fortunate for them, today's college students have an energy leader who's geared and ready to reverse this trend. Her name is Katelyn Romanov.
Katelyn is a recent Middlebury College graduate who just won a national energy contest hosted by SmartPower and the U.S. Department of Energy. America's Next Eco-Star was a tough competition that attracted nominees from more than 100 colleges and universities across the country. To be sure, the competition proved that energy and environmental activism is alive and well on today's college campuses.
Katelyn herself represents a new generation of activist -- one who combines energy and enthusiasm with an understanding of what it takes to get people to act. Having founded two student sustainability groups at Middlebury College, Katelyn provides hope that there is more energy and environmental action to come from the next generation. What her peers need is the information to motivate them.
Tell a college student that their flat-screen TV is still on, even when they've turned it off, and they'll be confused. Tell them that their TV is the biggest energy drain in their dorm room, even when "off," and they'll start to ask questions. Once you have them wondering, you can explain that any device that's plugged into the wall, even when off, is constantly using electricity. Then you can tell them that the solution is easy: they can put their TV on a power strip that cuts off power to electronic devices when they aren't in use. And guess what? They'll do it.
Their prime motivator, by the way, is not to save a polar bear. Energy users will more often than not take action because of the simple reasoning that it's just stupid to power a device when it's not in use. The environmental value comes in as a byproduct of the smart energy action they just made.
So let's understand what college students need: information. Katie Romanov is living proof that with information comes leadership and passion. If we can provide other young adults with the information and the tools required to make smart energy choices, then I am confident that they will make the right choice.
Brian Keane is the President of SmartPower, a nonprofit marketing organization funded by private foundations to help build the clean energy marketplace by helping the American public become smarter about their energy use.