Energy efficiency and behavior change struggle on…

For several years, I’ve been writing about, working in, or incorporating behavior change methods to encourage energy conserving behavior.

And I guess this post is to say: Don’t let up.  We haven’t gotten there yet…perhaps not by a long shot.

In our bag of goodies, we have new arsenal: thermostats that beg us to interact (such as Google’s Nest), smart meter interval data available at our finger tips (see Pepco’s My Account), home displays that happen on our phone (see the latest example in the news), and games among games to play with our family and community to encourage reducing energy.

A survey from KSVC, a marketing firm that appreciates the challenge of this task, has revealed that we’re not too far from where we were back in 2012.  Essentially they found:

“…higher utility bill is easier to cope with than the price of a solution.”

In other words, we haven’t made it harder to cope with a higher utility bill than implementing a solution (whether technological or behavioral).  “Energy efficiency” in the home is still a technology, not a state or category of behavior.

Still need time to turn this ship around... (by james_wheeler via flickr)

Still need time to turn this ship around… (by james_wheeler via flickr)

What energy efficiency means to us is:

  • 53% – Energy Efficiency means efficient products and/or technology.
  • 20% – Energy Efficiency means an expensive investment.
  • 16% – Energy Efficiency means conservation.
  • 10% – Energy Efficiency means not measurable savings.

Maybe it’s still about the words we use (as I noted from Dougherty’s work several years ago).  KSVC tried using the term “energy saving solution” and apparently we found that to mean something different:

  • 35% – Energy Savings Solutions means easy-to-implement, DIY tips.
  • 32% – Energy Savings Solutions means financial savings.
  • 23% – Energy Savings Solutions means conservation.
  • 8% – Energy Savings Solutions means immediate savings.

What does this mean for those trying to nudge greater energy savings out of our community?  We need to continue to find the most salient ways to approach the concept of conservation, find ways to ingrain behavior into habits, and continue to build the social norm by making the invisible visible and sharing stories about one another.  In other words, it’s back to the basics of community based social marketing.

Keep on, keeping on….

Read more about KSVC’s survey and their work at:

Saving Energy is Good for the Soul

Reposted from where you can learn about green living in Montgomery County and read stories of local resident doing more to use less and protect our community’s environment!

Hello! It’s your friendly County energy adviser, Michelle, here to help ring in the New Year with a blog post.

Let me start by saying: I promise I’m not going to challenge you to turn off lights or get an energy audit. I’m not even going to offer you tips on making your resolutions SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound). You can read about energy goals, SMART goals, and other behavior-changing tips elsewhere.

Instead, I offer this resolution: Do more healthful and meaningful activities this year.

Making 2015 meaningful and healthful

To prove I’m serious, here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Get a good night’s sleep as many nights a week as you can. Re-discover what 8 hours of sleep can do for you, even if it’s just on the weekend.

Sleeping kitten. Photo courtesy of Moyan Breen, via Flickr

  • Invite friends and family over for dinner, hang out, and socialize. Cook and watch a movie, play games, visit and catch-up over a cup of cocoa.
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood and stop to smell the, err…native and stormwater-friendly species in yours and your neighbors’ yards. Maybe, even say “hello”!
  • Plant something, like a pot of flowers or a tree.

Child playing in a garden. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lucia, via Flickr

  • Volunteer at your favorite local charity, or better yet, help out a neighbor with a project that could use an extra pair of hands. Have you gotten to know your local Greens (Bethesda, Poolesville, Silver Spring, Wheaton)?

What do these things all have in common?

Well, first of all, they are good and healthy fun. These activities make us smile, and feel better about yourself, your family, your friends, and your community. These activities make us happy, grateful, and appreciative of what’s around us.

Secondly, they also have a low energy impact. A recent study featured in the Washington Post by Joseph Kantenbacher, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California-Berkeley, showed us “The surprising link between things that make us happy and things that save energy”.  Kantenbacher found:

“A number of the least energy intensive activities that I found — sleeping, socializing, hobbies, and so forth — are enriching personally.  So they make people happy to do them, but they also are relatively low consuming activities.”

Make this year one of good, healthy fun, and maybe you’ll find that your energy bill drops a bit – or maybe a bit more if you turn off the lights or get that audit – but regardless of how much energy you save this year, you’ll be a happier, healthier person.

A family cooking together. Photo courtesy of Nestle, via Flickr.

Original post by the friendly folks at Montgomery County DEP:


CERTs Right Light Guide: How CBSM helps us get it right

When I present community-based social marketing (CBSM) to others, I like to use examples of how I use it at my work at CERTs.  At CERTs, we use the CBSM framework in designing our programs and our materials.  As I mention in a previous post, information can play an important role, addressing barriers, or also just raising awareness.  Using CBSM can help you design your materials to meet the needs of your targeted audience. Continue reading

“Efficiency is a machine. Conservation is action.”: Culture and Behavior

Behavior change is a function of a number of things, including but not limited to, information and understanding, a motivation, resources to act, perceptions of efficacy, social environment, and also…culture, the topic of this post.

I mentioned culture in my post on social norming as something that can affect the strength of social norms in a community.  Culture also plays a role on its own on how we perceive, create value, and act.  It is more pervasive that social influences.  Culture encompasses our history, what we value, and how we create meaning in our lives.  It is what we believe and how we express our beliefs (definition).

“Culture is about shared meanings.  …Meanings can only be shared through our common access to language. So language is central to meaning and culture and has always been regarded as the key repository of cultural values and meanings.“ – Stuart Hall, cultural theorist

To understand the cultural aspects of energy use, Opinion Dynamics conducted an ethnographic study that involved 136 in-depth interviews in homes across California.  The goal was to identify the drivers and barriers to positive energy behavior by looking at language use, behavioral choice, and physical and social environment.

Continue reading