When Toyota first introduced the Prius, its fuel-consumption display seemed like a minor feature. But drivers loved the instant feedback, challenging themselves (and family members) to see how high they could get their mileage--and how much they could save on gas.
New environmental innovations aim to tap into that same mix of competitive spirit and cost incentives. Two California utilities are testing or installing "smart" electricity meters that will show customers when they're using the most energy (and allow the companies to charge more during peak hours). Participants in a pilot program used that knowledge to cut their consumption by an average of 13 percent.
On the East Coast, RecycleBank is trying a similar technique with trash. The company contracts with garbage haulers to install computer chips that measure the weight of materials in recycling bins. Households get coupons to spend at local and national retailers based on how much they recycle, while cities save on disposal fees. Just don't try to cheat the system--RecycleBank's onboard computers allow garbage collectors to report scammers who put bricks in their bins.