They’re worried about the faltering economy and job security, but consumers say they are willing to buy energy-efficient products if they see immediate savings, according to a national survey released today.

The survey, one of four conducted annually by The Shelton Group, found that 71% of the people surveyed cited saving money as a reason to buy energy-efficient products. Fewer chose to “protect the environment” (55%) or “to protect the quality of life for future generations” (49%).  That is a notable change from Shelton surveys conducted in 2006 and 2007, before the recession started, when respondents cited “to protect the environment” most often.

“Americans are concerned about their jobs, their homes, and their bank accounts. They’re now more focused on saving money than saving the Amazon,” Suzanne Shelton, president of The Shelton Group, said in a statement. “Yes, conserving energy is the greenest thing anybody can do, but consumers are not buying more efficient products because they want to save the world. They want products that can save them money in the long run.”

According to the survey, respondents said they are likely to take steps to reduce their utility bills over the long term. Among them:  

  • 44% would install a programmable thermostat; 32% already had.

  • 43% would install additional insulation; 26% already had.

  • 42% would install a higher-efficiency water heater; 26% already had.

The study by the Knoxville, Tenn.-based agency specializing in sustainability marketing showed that 53% of those who purchased Energy Star-rated appliances, completed renovations to boost energy efficiency, or participate in utility programs reported seeing a reduction in their utility bills.

But 32% said they had not seen a reduction. This is most likely due to rising utility rates or because they have more electronics plugged in, Shelton said.

Then there is the third possibility: the “Snackwells effect.” “A lot of us buy a box of Snackwells and think, ‘They’re low fat, so I can eat all of them.’ Then we wonder why we haven’t lost weight,” Shelton noted. “Buying an energy-efficient product can create the same type of effect. We’ll say, ‘I just got a high-efficiency air conditioner, I can lower the temp and make my home even cooler in the summer.’ Then we get frustrated that our new air conditioner isn’t reducing our utility bills.”

The advertising executive said she believes that’s why it’s important for utilities and product manufacturers to help customers change their behaviors.

The Utility Pulse 2009 survey was conducted by telephone with 500 respondents in January. Demographic quotas were set for gender, age, race, region, and education to match the overall U.S. population demographics. The Shelton Group said it’s 95% certain that the attitudes and opinions found in the study closely match those of all U.S. homeowners.