What Americans Can Learn From How the Rest of the World Saves Energy

Photo: otherpaths

Most Americans aren't as devoted as Ed Begley, Jr. to conserving energy that they'll ride a bike to create energy to run a toaster. But travel abroad to Europe, Australia, or any other developed country, and you'll see that much of the rest of the world is serious about saving energy and the world's resources.

The United States is known for doing a poor job at being energy efficient. In a report about a dozen countries with the biggest economies, the United States' energy efficiency efforts were only ahead of Brazil, Canada, and Russia, according to the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or ACEEE. The United Kingdom ranked first, followed by Germany, Italy, Japan, and France.

While not everyone can live near an efficient public transportation system, such as Sydney's rail service, or can afford to rebuild their home with solar power, there are some things that much of the rest of the world does that Americans either don't do, or if they do, don't do in great numbers. Here are a few. (See also: 5 Ways to Save Water, Energy, Money, and the World All in One Afternoon)

Use Clotheslines

While these are a common way in America to avoid running wet clothes in a dryer, they don't seem to be as common as they are in Europe or elsewhere. Clothes dryers are often small in other parts of the world — to save money and space — and thus encourage people to hang clothes out to dry.

Pay Higher Gas Prices

While not as cheap as Venezuela, gasoline in America is relatively cheap when compared to other countries. A $4 gallon in the U.S. can cost double in Europe, due partly to higher taxes. Paying more for gas can have two positive results: You'll either walk or take public transportation to get anywhere, or it will make buying a car with better gas mileage look like a deal. If a U.S. company can make cars for Europe that get 62 miles per gallon, it can do the same for Americans.

Make Buying Solar Power Easy

On a recent trip to Australia, I noticed a mom-and-pop store on a corner selling home solar power kits. It wasn't a huge warehouse with miles of supplies, and it didn't have professional looking signs, just a simple window sign offering solar panels for the home. While Home Depot once sold do-it-yourself solar panels (that were geared more toward contractors than DIYers), installation and sales is often done in the U.S. by professionals who sell to the masses. You don't see small stores on American street corners selling solar power kits.

Practice Rain Water Collection

Collecting rain water and saving it for watering plants or pumping it inside a home to flush toilets or wash clothes is a great idea in dry climates, but can also be used in the U.S. as a way to save water. Large tanks that hold at least 10,000 gallons are common outside Australian homes.

Automatically Turn Off Lights

While staying in a hotel for a week on a recent trip overseas, each time I wanted any of the lights on in the suite, I had to put the door card key into a slot just inside the door that would let the power turn on. It required me to be in the room to turn on any lights, and all of the lights turned off when I removed the card key and left the room. It was a simple way to turn off every light without having to remember to do it or go around to every light and switch it off. About a month later I stayed at a hotel in America. While I didn't expect to find the same device, there was nothing to prevent me from leaving every light on before going out for the evening.

Use Smaller Refrigerators

Everything is bigger in America: homes, cars, kitchens, bedrooms, and even everyday appliances such as dryers and refrigerators. Whether it's because their homes are smaller or they like to shop more often for fresh groceries, Europeans typically have smaller refrigerators. After air conditioners, refrigerators are the second-biggest users of electricity.

Beyond tougher regulations and fewer resources, the rest of the world may also have a leg up on America in saving energy because they live in smaller communities and smaller populations. America is such an expansive land that even with 314 million people, there's room to stretch out and forget about the millions of people you share the country with. Europe has more than double the population, but it's split among many countries, giving a feeling of intimacy in a smaller geographic area and possibly the incentive not to waste energy because you care about taking care of your neighbors.

During my trip to Australia this summer, I noticed a small benefit of going to a city park in Brisbane, a park similar to one you might find in America. Free gas grills are available for the public to use at these city parks, with a nearby sign asking users to clean up after themselves and keep the grills clean for the next user.

I never saw a dirty grill while there, leaving me to conjecture that no one wanted to leave a mess for the next person to clean. Americans may keep public barbecues clean for the next user in some parts of the country, but I haven't seen it happen where I've been. It's not that Americans don't care for others, but that taking the little steps to take care of the environment because it will help you and your neighbor isn't as common in the U.S. as it is elsewhere. It's a small step to leave something in the same (or better) condition than you found it. It's only an example, but cleaning up after yourself at a public park can carry over to energy consumption and other aspects of life.

Average: 4.1 (10 votes)
Your rating: None

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Guest's picture

Usually, I'm right with you on these articles. However, it seems that you are implying that the differences outside the US are intended to be environmental measures. I don't think that is the case. You do point out the geographic cause of some of the differences, but most of the others (clotheslines, gas prices, appliance size) have more to do with economic causes. I do agree that those measures are better for the environment. Just thought I'd bring that up.

Guest's picture

Very good points. One item surprised me here in Denver: it's illegal here to catch any rainwater. Apparently the local water board has ensured the passing of an ordinance that prohibits any competition.

Turning down the thermostat on the hot water heater is a big energy saver. Instead of making the water hot enough to require cold water, set it lower so all you need is what's in the hot water heater.

Andrea Karim's picture

Wow, how can that even be Constitutional? The rainwater thing.

Guest's picture

The European cars that get awesome gas mileage do so by eliminating safety features that add weight to the car. America has laws requiring the safety features. I guess that should be de-regulated and let the people have the freedom to choose safety vs. fuel economy for themselves.

Andrea Karim's picture

That's simply not true. European cars are smaller and more fuel-efficient because they are required by law to be.

Guest's picture

Many cars in Europe are the same model as those in the U.S., just outfitted with a smaller (or smarter) engine. My blog is really boring: all my posts say, here is this car, it's cool in these ways, and it's available in the U.S. only with the very largest, gas-hoggiest engines. Generally, we have _way_ more power under the hood than we actually need, because it's cool to have vroom-vroom. In Europe, it's cool to be gas-frugal. AND their government is pushing for 57mpg by 2020: nice synergy there.

Guest's picture

A free gas grill here would have kids inhaling propane.

Guest's picture

Those card-key access power switches in European hotels are a real pain when you want to charge your iPad or other device while you go out. It's a good idea, but it would be nice if there was a plug that was switched off.

Guest's picture
Thrifty Writer

Clotheslines are sometimes regulated by homeowners' associations. A lot of HOA's forbid clotheslines because it ruins the look of the neighborhood.
I dry certain clothes on a wooden clothesrack inside my home. While putting up a clothesline outside my apartment isn't really possible, I wouldn't do it even if it were, since my clothes would end up drying with a lot of grime (the drawbacks of living in a borough of NYC).

Guest's picture

Since we started living frugally and decided to reduce our bills, we also set up a clothesline in our backyard to dry the clothes. Although it may take hours to dry the clothes but it does not only lower our electric bill but the clothes also smell better. Admittedly, I still use the dryer occassionally, especially dng winter and it is raining outside.

Guest's picture

You are right

I think Americans have started learning about the use of water tanks

I believe time has come to save rain water & other natural resources


Guest's picture

This article is on point. I lived in Barcelona, Spain for 3 months and it really opened my eyes to how the rest of the world had more disdain for what we are doing to the planet than American's do. In Barcelona, there are recycling bins on every street corner- and not just one for everything There are about 5 different ones, color coded for glass, paper, plastic, food and regular trash. We also didn't have a dryer or dishwasher in our apartment. Although initially we were shocked and a bit angry at the extra effort we;d have to put into our everyday lives- it really is the smarter and more economical way to live.

Guest's picture

I lived in Australia in '05 for 6 months and the flat we rented did not have a dishwasher, garbage disposal or a/c unit. Every house/apt had clotheslines. At the flat the lines extended out from the bldg. I realized how spoiled we are here. There were no free refills on drinks either. And you had to pay for the condiment pkgs. Quite an eye opener indeed.