A recent environmental movement that I’ve noticed increasingly often in the United States is an attempt to encourage people to unplug electrical devices. The argument makes enough sense: if you leave things plugged in, they’ll use more and more energy when they don’t need to, wasting money and energy. I have seen this campaign address a wide variety of things that needlessly consume energy, such as televisions, stereos, and video game consoles plugged in and consuming energy when not in use, as well as leaving chargers for laptops and cell phones plugged in longer than necessary or not even when being used at all. Many chargers and devices continue to use electricity even when the device is turned off.
In the UK, however, just about every outlet has an on/off switch. Instead of unplugging a device, the outlet itself can just be turned off. I’ve found that this is not only more convenient than having to unplug devices, which can be annoying, but also somewhat encouraging, making it easier to remember to do. In a conversation with my English flatmates, they were very surprised to hear that outlets in the US don’t have on/off switches, and one simply asked “But doesn’t that use a lot of energy?”. Especially in light of the increasing amount of literature and efforts to make people unplug their devices when not using them from recent years from back in the states, I didn’t really have a good answer for why we don’t have the ability to turn off our outlets that easily. Attempting to look for any answers on Google later revealed that nobody else seems to know why this isn’t a more common practice either.
While the switch was initially introduced partly as a safety feature, the ability to simply turn off outlets has also become quite useful from an environmental standpoint. Perhaps the higher cost of energy in the UK has resulted in a greater awareness for saving electricity than we have in the US, but there seems to be no reason why not to utilize such a simple solution. While it may not seem like much since the same thing could pretty much be accomplished by simply unplugging devices, it reflects the right sort of mindset, and it’s simply another one of many little ways in which anybody can help make a difference.