Behavior & Human Dimensions
The extreme weather events sweeping the United States, from wildfires in the West to hurricanes in the South, are causing untold personal suffering and damaging US infrastructure. We want to help residents and businesses get back on their feet, and we see a smart use of energy as integral for long-term recovery.
Why do some people take action to reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprints while others do not? Environmental psychologists, behavioral economists and other social scientists have all investigated this question, and come up with a variety of answers.
Our new guide helps separate the Pikachus from the Digletts of energy efficiency behavior-change programs
In the energy efficiency world, programs that reduce energy use by targeting human behavior are relatively few, but proliferating quickly. In 2013, some US states claimed as much as 28% of their energy efficiency savings from behavior change programs. Like Pokémon Go characters in the wild, some behavior change programs are common, well-known, and seen everywhere. Others are rare and largely unknown.
You know the facial expression of a person who got confused on the way to being excited? That is the typical the response I get when I tell people my areas of research. I am an environmental psychologist. Before you ask… No, I do not perform psychotherapy on bunnies and I’m afraid I can’t tell you how trees feel before being cut down (although I imagine it’s the type of thing that would get your sap pumping). In fact, I have spent the better part of a decade (in British Columbia, Canada) researching the psychology of human behavior, as it relates to environmental problems.
The past year included many successes, including quite a few that we can build on in the new year. Among the notable developments in 2015:
After work, to unwind, I like to turn on the TV. There is just something about watching people escape from zombies or write 1960s advertising slogans that takes my mind off my day’s work. After I’m all caught up on the soapy cable dramas, though, I get myself into trouble. That’s when I inevitably wind up on reality TV. When I watch a sea of fawning bachelors courting a lone bachelorette, or a young heiress making her way in the business world, it bothers me that these shows fail to truly portray reality. And then I start thinking about work again.
In my college dormitory, there was a large, bright poster in the basement laundry room. The poster encouraged us to always use the “cold” setting on the washing machine in order to save energy. It probably cited an EPA figure that 90% of energy used in laundry goes toward heating water. As an environmental science major, I dutifully used the cold cycle already, but I remember noticing that most of my classmates did not.
When trying to change behavior, posters alone don’t work.
The ACEEE Field Guide to Utility-run Behavior Programs, released in December, is the first comparative analysis of utility-run behavior programs. Practitioners, evaluators, and regulators can now use the guide to design and assess strategies and develop policies for utility-run behavior programs. The problem has been that, when state and local stakeholders thought about creating behavioral programs, they would encounter barriers.
Today ACEEE is releasing the Field Guide to Utility-Run Behavior Programs, the first comparative analysis of programs that focus on changing customer behavior to save energy.
The Behavior and Human Dimensions staff at ACEEE have been conducting a form of ‘bird-watching’ by collecting sightings of utility-run behavior programs in the wild. We have been recording information about the variety of programs that exist, examining the frequency of their distribution, and generally seeking to ascertain how they come to occupy their specific ecological niches, including those at both electric and gas utilities.