Distributed Behavior-Based Energy Efficiency: How we can Leverage Spheres of Influence to Fight Climate Change and Achieve Cost Effective Energy Savings
image credit: Source: MeterLeader
- Jul 15, 2020 11:25 am GMT
- 647 views
Nearly every individual contributes both to growing carbon emissions (to different degrees), and has a stake in combating climate change to ensure that warming stays below 2℃. To avoid potentially catastrophic consequences in the future, scientists say we must cut carbon emissions by at least half within the next 10 years. Such a Herculean task surely requires all hands on deck. So what are we waiting for? We can coordinate measurable and collective large scale climate action as individuals by leveraging behavioral interventions within our own spheres of influence. And we can begin implementing this approach by first focusing on energy efficiency.
Leveraging Spheres of Influence
Within the context of the Social-Ecological Model developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner, spheres of influence are the multiple levels (individual, interpersonal, organizational, community, and public policy) of influence that shape an individual’s behaviors.
We can use this same model, to help us to understand the factors that cause people to take or not take action to mitigate climate change. The model also suggests that in order to get people to take action to combat climate change, it is necessary to act across multiple spheres of influence at the same time. This approach is more likely to sustain climate change mitigation efforts over time than any single intervention.
Up until now, energy efficiency efforts have primarily been focused at levels of public policy and mass marketing campaigns promoting rebates. To accelerate adoption of energy efficient equipment and behaviors to enable us to eventually reach 100% clean energy, we need to increase focus on organizational and interpersonal spheres of influence.
At the organizational level, many individuals are heavily influenced by their work environment. Work is a place where we spend most of our time, it’s where we cooperate in teams, and it is also a place where many of us derive our sense of status. Employer driven climate change/energy initiatives can leverage these same factors to motivate employees to take up climate change mitigation efforts.
At the interpersonal level, many of our relationships now exist partially or completely on social media platforms. Like it or not, social media is a convenient way to connect with many friends and family quickly, it allows for the easy sharing of content, and it enables users to keep tabs on what their friends are doing in real-time. If you see your friends posting about making real carbon emission reductions, you are more likely to be interested in joining in.
So how do we apply energy efficiency initiatives at the organizational and interpersonal levels?
Applying Behavior Based Interventions
Behavioral interventions are proven methods of achieving significant energy savings. In fact a large portion of utility residential energy efficiency portfolio savings now come from behavior based interventions, primarily in the form of Home Energy Reports. Behavior-based programs are some of the most cost effective energy efficiency programs.
But behavior-based programs need not stop at Home Energy Reports. In fact, ACEEE’s Report titled, “Reducing Energy Waste through Municipally Led Behavior Change Programs (2018)” shows us that a wide variety of behavioral interventions can yield significant energy saving results. The Report provides the following statistics:
- Normative comparisons displayed via Home Energy Reports yield 1.2 - 2.2% in electricity savings
- Competitions and games can yield up to 14% energy savings for residential electricity, and 1.8 - 21% for commercial electricity
- Community based strategies involving social interaction can yield 4.4 - 27% in energy savings
- Real-time energy use feedback can yield 1 - 15% energy savings for electricity
Which leads us to our final question - how can we apply behavioral interventions in the context of our organizational and interpersonal spheres of influence?
Energy Saving Competitions are Effective, Easy, and Fun
Energy Saving Competitions are effective behavioral interventions that can be easily applied in the context of both organizational and interpersonal spheres of influence. Energy Savings Competitions involve users real-time electricity and natural gas data and individual and collective group energy saving goals. You can think of energy saving competitions as being similar to a Fitbit challenge, but instead of steps competitions are measuring kilowatt-hours, therms, and carbon emission reductions.
Energy Saving Competitions combine many of the social science principles proven to achieve energy savings, including: competitions & games in the form of individual/team energy savings goals and prizes for top energy savers, community & social interaction through conversation amongst teammates and competitors, normative comparison in the form of a visible leaderboard showcasing participants and recognizing top energy savers, and real-time energy use feedback in the form of a dynamic leaderboard displaying changes in participants’ energy use.
Energy Saving Challenges are also easy to run because their structure is simple. All Energy Saving Competitions at their core involve energy use data, a duration period, energy saving goals, a leaderboard displaying regularly updated results, and some type of prize for top energy savers. This simple structure structure also allows for many flavors of customization. Organizations can run energy saving competitions amongst their employees measuring each participant’s home energy use, or amongst office teams measuring energy use of each floor in the building, or amongst franchise locations measuring the energy use of multiple company locations. The ability to customize energy saving challenges to fit each specific organization’s needs are endless. Companies and other types of organizations can run energy saving competitions in the same way that they sponsor fitness competitions for their employees.
Energy saving competitions take a traditionally dry topic like energy and turn it into something fun. They are also a win-win for everyone involved. Challenge participants get a chance to save money on their utility bills, win prizes, and feel good knowing they are combating climate change. Similarly challenge organizers (can be any type of organization) can use energy saving competitions to help them meet their sustainability goals, provide community engagement for their employees/members, and recognize and reward those employees/members who make significant carbon emission reductions. Organizations can easily create and maintain energy saving competitions, requiring little in terms of cost, time, and resources. Challenges can be carried out by a variety of organizations targeting different participants specific to their sphere of influence. This is a new distributed approach to behavior-based energy efficiency.