Energy Conservation vs. Energy Efficiency: What’s the Difference?

Grade Level: , , ,

Objective: The student will create a definition for energy conservation and energy efficiency based on discussion with classmates and input from teacher.

Time: One class period

Materials: one Energy Conservation vs. Energy Efficiency worksheet per student

 Energy Conservation vs. Energy Efficiency

Vocabulary: energy conservation, energy efficiency 

Background Information:

Energy shortages and gas lines of the 1970’s, wearing sweaters as a kid instead of turning up the heat, and sleeping on the porch where it was cooler are all graphic examples of what most Americans think of when they hear the word energy conservation. Conservation is linked to sacrifice in many minds. The definition we give students in the Watt Watchers glossary is “to keep from being lost, damaged or wasted; saved.” Today’s generation did not have to wait in line for gasoline. And most put on a sweater in the winter because mom said so, not because the president asked us to turn down the heat to conserve the nation’s fuel. Reducing energy usage does not mean going without. Some people think of energy conservation as having to be uncomfortable or suffer to save energy. The truth is: comfort and conservation are completely compatible! Energy conservation usually means being more careful in the way we use energy or improving our habits. Like the definition says; keep from being wasted.

Energy efficiency invokes feelings of control and advancement. Energy efficiency means using state of the art technology to get better services to many people. The definition in the Watt Watchers glossary is “ability to produce a desired effect or product with a minimum of effort, expense, or waste.” This embodies exactly what we want to do, get more performance and productivity with less cost in dollars and energy use.

Setting the Stage:

Write Good and Bad on the board. Read a list of statements and words to the students. Have them decide if the statement should go under the good column or the bad column. If there is a dispute, write it under both. Statements could include pollution, gasoline, compact fluorescent light bulb, turning off lights, leaving the TV on and leaving the room, or temperature settings of 78° in the summer and 68° in the winter. Leave the list up for the duration of the lesson. At the end of the lesson, ask the students if there are any statements they would like to move.

Activity 1: Conservation or Efficiency?

Have the students write what they think the definition of conservation and efficiency is on the Energy Conservation vs. Energy Efficiency worksheet. Then working in groups, have them decide whether each statement represents energy conservation, energy efficiency or both. After completing the worksheet, go over the answers with the students and discuss any that there are disputes over. Read the list that you have defined as energy efficiency and have the kids finalize a definition. Do the same for energy conservation. Do the definitions differ?


Discuss how energy conservation and energy efficiency are similar terms and how they are different. Discuss which statements on the board would fall under the conservation heading and which would fall under the efficiency heading.

Extensions: Dilemma Journals

Have your students keep a journal during your energy unit and give them a dilemma to write about each day. The dilemmas can be easy, such as: should you turn off the lights when the teacher forgets, or complex such as: you are the Superintendent, do you allot money to upgrade the school to an energy saving program this year knowing it will save money in the future or do you spend that money to hire new teachers? Have the students explain their reasoning behind their decision.


Science: 5.3 (A, B, C), 6.3 (A, B, C), 7.3 (A, B, C), 8.3 (A, B, C)
Social Studies: 5.25 (A, B, C, F), 5.26 (A, B), 6.22 (A, B, C, E), 6.23 (A, B), 7.21 (A, B, C, D, E, F), 7.22 (A, B), 8.29 (A, B, C, D, E, F), 8.31 (A, B)
ELA: 5.13 (B), 6.12 (B), 7.12 (B), 8.12 (B)

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