Friday, March 26, 2010

Energy Efficiency and Human Behavior

I wrote in a previous post Climate Denial and Extreme CSR about the human behavior issues surrounding the psychological acceptance of climate change. Engineers involved ni energy efficiency don't like to admit it, but there's a human behavior element to energy efficiency as well. In fact, there was just a hole conference on the subject organized by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, not exactly a flaky bastion of mushy thought.

The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance sent Karen Horkitz, director of NEEA's evaluation and partner services, and recently published an interview with her. I'll excerpt some of it here.
  • " ... The first important take-away for the energy efficiency community is that behavior change is a key component in the majority of, if not all, energy efficiency initiatives. The industry is counting on behavior change to capture as much as half of the target future energy efficiency gain. We can ignore it, but if we do we are limiting how much potential savings we can realize."
  • "Another take-away is that there are strong behavioral barriers that discourage people from taking action related to energy consumption and climate change. One speaker described climate change as a "perfect storm for doing nothing". That's because, from a decision-making perspective, climate change has many characteristics that typically lead human beings to make poor decisions-the potential negative impacts seem far in the future, we don't have any concrete examples of consequences, and taking action requires changes that are inconvenient for us. Behavioral economics research, however, offers techniques to influence behavior in predictable and quantifiable ways."
  • "That leads into the third thing I'd like to mention: that behavior change is a social science with a fairly robust body of research behind it. I think a lot of people in the energy efficiency field have this idea that behavior change is just a squishy concept-where the actions taken to change behavior are vague and the impacts unmeasurable. But we actually do know quite a bit about how to affect predictable and quantifiable behavior change. Mass marketers have known about and applied effective behavioral science techniques for decades, and we also know quite a bit about how to effect behavior change in commercial and industrial settings."
  • "It's not just a question of the environmental impacts of climate change. Businesses, industry and government all face tremendous financial and security risks associated with climate change. In addition, energy efficiency offers industry a way to improve production efficiency, and offers the commercial and industrial sectors a source of competitive advantage. The financial community has even begun to recognize that companies who are effectively addressing sustainability issues also tend to have more effective overall business management and results.

  • The conference featured numerous presentations that illustrated various approaches to behavior change. Some trends include:
    1. Programs that focus on energy consumption feedback to the end user.
    2. Competition-based programs.
    3. Community-based programs.
    4. Strategic energy management.
    5. Media campaigns and social media.
    6. Research techniques.

    7. ACEEE has made a complete library of presentations from the conference available.

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