Nest, the only company that has ever gotten journalists to use the words “sexy” and “thermostat” in the same sentence (see “A Smart, Sexy–Thermostat?!”), today announces a sexy thermostat software update for its sexy thermostat hardware. As the Verge and others report, Version 3.5 of Nest’s software brings data to solve a few basic problems. For one thing, the Nest thermostat is now smarter about knowing when its being directly hit by sunlight (which could lead it to think your house is hotter than it is). Nest is also getting smarter about fighting mold, automatically turning off the AC to keep things dry in periods of high humidity. And Nest’s Auto-away feature has reportedly grown stronger, too, so it’s better at saving power when you’re out of the house. Last week, Nest also announced some features that help reduce energy demand during peak periods (that only rolled out with a few partner grids).
What’s perhaps smartest about Nest, in my opinion, is this: it’s a pro-environmental company that masquerades, almost, as a lifestyle brand. Its got the design chops of Apple’s iPod division behind it, for one (how else would the word “sexy” get thrown around so much?). Its viral or viral-worthy videos have a sleek, ready-for-primetime quality. Use Nest, and your beautiful homes will be happy, these ads argue.
“Saving energy is a beautiful thing,” runs the tagline to that ad. And Nest’s genius is in selling us pro-environmental behavior as a “beautiful” thing–not as the “right” thing, which would probably be ineffectual. As I’ve written elsewhere, the environmental movement is fighting a war that is now mostly psychological. We know which behaviors are best for us as a society and as a globe. But it’s now largely a question of marketing, “branding” even, to steer consumers in a healthier direction.
It’s naïve to expect most people to be scrupulous about not wasting energy because it’s the right thing to do. But give an energy-saving product all the accoutrements of the other products that markets love–sexiness, sleekness, ease-of-use, intelligence, and (after an admittedly non-negligible up-front investment), monetary savings–and presto, you’ve got yourself an environmental movement. Otherwise known as a customer base.
The consumerization of environmentalism is Nest’s boldest achievement.