It’s nice to imagine that everyone has a green thumb and is always very energy conscious and conservative. Unfortunately, that is not the case. While most people would probably choose to save energy over waste it when given the choice, those same people don’t consciously think about saving energy. Saving energy just isn’t important enough for them to worry about in their daily activities and habits. They know they should be saving energy, but they don’t. The key to convincing such people to increase their energy saving habits is grounded in behavior psychology.

Increase Personal Meaning

A key component of behavior is personal meaning. People are more likely to engage in activities or remember to do something if it has greater personal meaning. The pie-in-the-sky concept of simply saving energy sounds nice, but it has no real personal meaning for most people, so they won’t often remember to do it. Add in the idea of saving money, and all of a sudden people are more interested. Why? Money has more personal meaning for them. Show these people exactly how much money they might save by changing their habits and they are more likely to change them.

There are other ways to add personal meaning as well. Put someone’s pride or reputation on the line in a contest, and the amount of personal meaning increases dramatically. When energy saving is turned into a contest between peers and published for all to see, the contestants will be much more likely to save energy. This is especially useful for a younger age group or for a close social community, such as a college campus or private community. Such an experiment was proven with students in a UCLA dorm. The students were provided with information about how they use energy and methods of saving. They were then entered into a contest with one another on who could cut back on the most energy. Ongoing results were published, and students’ room doors were marked with colored dots showing how well they were doing in the contest. By the end of the contests the students had cut back on energy use by an average of 30 percent.

Compliance to Authority

Most people don’t like big brother concepts, but the presence of authority is a major factor in a person’s behavior. Event he implied presence of authority can have a major effect. This was proven by one study where participants were told that their energy use was being monitored. There were no stated consequences or punishments for energy use, just the statement that the monitoring was part of an experiment. Unlike in the college study, there were no instructions this time to give subjects ideas for energy savings. This shows that most people already know how to save energy. They just need incentive.

A follow-up survey showed that the subjects who were told they were being watched were much more attentive to their energy use. They made sure to turn lights off, not leave appliances running, keep tighter control over the thermostat and invest in energy saving devices. This shows that even when there are no personal incentives, simply being watched causes people to act better.

What Do These Experiments Mean for Energy Savings?

Simply, we need to do more than just educate about energy savings and tell people that it’s important to save the planet. Unfortunately, they don’t care unless there is a personal reason to do so. The good news is that it isn’t hard. Monitoring energy use is easy. Holding friendly contests are easy. Families can easily do this in their own homes, with family members in competition to see who can save the most energy. 

Sony Blake is a specialist at TechnologyDynamics. When he is not working, he enjoys working on his green blog and providing advice for people who are looking to go green.

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