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Title: "Social Norms and Energy Conservation" and "Behavioral Science and Energy Policy"
Resource type: Article
Topics: Energy, Individual Choices
Keywords: energy conservation, individual behavior, behavior change
Audience: All
Region: Minnesota Statewide, Outside Minnesota
Summary: These two papers provide useful insights for those interested in working to reduce energy use and address climate change in their communities.
Content: Why do so many people fail to adopt energy saving practices even when they realize that these that can save them money? Are there other approaches that can be used to effectively promote energy saving practices that don't just appeal to peoples' economic self interest? It turns out that there are.

Two February 2010 academic papers by MIT (and NYU) professor Hunt Allcott provide useful insights for those interested in working to address climate change and reduce energy use in their communities. Both papers focus on how consumer behavior can be impacted by social and behavioral variables, rather than by using pricing and economic incentives.

"Behavioral Science and Energy Policy" (coauthored with Sendhil Mullainathan) summarizes a considerable body of research on psychology and behavioral economics that suggests that "non-price interventions can be as effective as prices in changing consumer choices." The authors discuss the following behavioral interventions:

- Framing and Psychological Cues

- Commitment Devices

- Default Options

- Social Norms

- Implementation Intentions

- Exploiting Nonlinear Demand Curves

The paper also discusses the implications of recent behavioral research on effectiveness of energy efficiency programs, among other analysis on this topic.

"Social Norms and Energy Conservation" evaluates a recent pilot program in Minnesota that involved thousands of Connexus Energy customers who received Home Energy Reports, which are several-page letters that provided a comparison of the household's electricity consumption over the past year to that of other houses of similar size, location, and heating type. The Reports also included suggestions for action steps which could reduce energy use. As a result of receiving the reports, Allcott found that the energy consumption of these households dropped by 2.3 - 2.4% below the baseline, with the effect strongest for households that have the highest energy consumption. Essentially, just by learning that their rate of energy consumption is higher than those of more efficient neighbors, individuals will tend to make reductions in their energy usage.

Both papers can be accessed at the web site below.

(Those interested in a broader overview of the topic of motivating people to take environmentally positive actions may also want to download Christie Manning, Ph.D.'s 2009 handbook The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior at as highlighted in the January 28, 2010 NextStep e-newsletter.)

Suggested by: Paul Moss
Added: 03/17/10
Updated: 08/12/11