Spur Action on Energy Efficiency with These Creative Ideas from a Behavior Expert

Feb. 2, 2016
It’s no secret that motivating people to take action on energy efficiency isn’t always easy. Sure, there are the energy nerds who love to control their energy usage from their phones. But what about the non-nerds? Senior research scientist Brian Southwell provides some creative ideas based on a summit.

It’s no secret that motivating people to take action on energy efficiency isn’t always easy.

Sure, there are the energy nerds who love to control their energy usage from their phones. But what about the non-nerds?

Brian Southwell, a senior research scientist at the research institute RTI International and lead editor of “Innovations in Home Energy Use: A Sourcebook for Behavior Change,” has some creative suggestions, among them: Make home energy prices part of real estate listings.

First, it’s important to understand what motivates people to save energy, he says.

People want to invest in energy efficiency to save money, he says. And they’re affected by pressure to do the right thing. However, wanting to save energy and actually taking action are two different things.

“Just because you want to save energy doesn’t mean you understand how HVAC systems are rated,” he says.

During a summit last year at Duke University, a number of players — including real estate professionals, policy experts and academics — developed a list of ideas aimed at helping people who want to save energy actually take action.

Their suggestions:

1. Include in real estate listings an energy efficiency rating of homes.

“As part of the search process for real estate, information about the efficiency of a particular house isn’t widely available, but there are tools like the Home Energy Rating System (HERS),” says Southwell. “We think making that information available could help with the decision making  for folks searching for information.” It could be included with information about what school district a home is located in, for example. This would give sellers an incentive to implement efficiency measures before they sell a home or business.

2. Establish employee incentive programs.

“Employers are in a unique position. Employees will pay attention to their messages and employers can leverage large groups of people.”  They might offer low-interest loans or seek group discounts on energy efficiency or solar installations. Competitions among employees over who can save the most energy are also an idea that was discussed at the summit. Competitions in general were a hot topic, he says.

3. Work with extension agencies on establishing automatic reminders after an energy audit.

Many extension agencies offer free energy audits, but there’s often not followup after the audit about  things like changing air filters; people often forget. “We need to  automate and provide reminders,” says Southwell.

The bottom line: More and more, people say they want to save energy because it’s good for the environment and also saves money. “But we need to give people the skills they need to accomplish their behavioral goals,” he says.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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