In this Issue: Reporting back: 2012 Climate, Buildings and Behavior (CBB) Symposium | Strategies for Reducing Energy Use and GHG Emissions in Building Portfolios | Seeking a CMB Program Coordinator | CMB Regional Hubs | User-friendly Programmable Thermostats | YPCCC National Survey | Resources
The fourth annual CBB symposium took place at the Institute May 23-25. It convened over 80 for-profit and not-for-profit real estate professionals, government representatives, social scientists and building industry experts from across the nation. Together we explored ways of applying social and behavioral science insights to reducing energy use and GHG emissions in building portfolios, particularly in multi-family housing and non-residential commercial buildings. Among the presentations, researchers from the Garrison Institute, MIT, NYU, Colorado State University, and the Fraunhofer Institute shared their scientifically rooted insights on the effectiveness of programmable thermostats, feedback, benchmarking, networks, and culture change. In addition, a variety of real-estate practitioners from Enterprise Community Partners, US General Service Administration, Tower Companies and other companies discussed first-hand experiences, successes, challenges and insights. Participants used this information to develop new and updated personal action plans to guide their efforts in leading change. Here are a few takeaways from CBB presentations:
CMB program Director Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez led a diverse panel of presenters on the topic use of energy use feedback in residential and commercial real estate. Her opening presentation focused on the effectiveness of different types of feedback on changing residential sector energy consumption patterns. Until recently, households had almost no access to energy consumption information resulting in significant barriers to mindful energy use and meaningful energy management practices. But smart metering and other newly emerging feedback technologies and programs are creating new opportunities for making consumption practices more visible and meaningful, allowing for new sets of practices to emerge. In fact, data from a meta-analysis of 57 different feedback initiatives indicates that residential feedback initiatives have achieved average program-wide savings of 4 to 12 percent depending on the type of feedback. You can view Karen’s talk here.
Arkadi Gerney of Opower told us how utilities and energy providers across the US are rapidly adopting his company’s feedback platform, resulting in total electricity savings of over 1 terawatt-hour of energy and over $100 million. Opower incorporates social norms research conducted by Dr. Robert Cialdini in ways that get more people motivated to explore new energy use practices and reduce their level of consumption. Their approach compares households’ current consumption levels to their own past usage and to their neighbors. Households receive the feedback on a monthly basis and have achieved average electricity savings of 1.5-3% per customer. Since Opower’s approach has been to work directly with utilities using an “opt-out” approach, they have been extraordinarily successful at reaching a large number of households.
Olga Sachs and Kurt Roth, two researchers from Fraunhofer’s Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, presented just-released results from an ongoing study of the impact of thermostat usability on energy usage. Their initial findings refute earlier research that suggested that measures of thermostat usability were important in determining actual use of programmable thermostats. Instead, their research found that usability had no meaningful effect on how often home occupants used default energy-saving settings on their thermostats. You can view their talk here. Their research is described at length below.
Other presentations were more focused on the ability of sustainability programs to build social and human capital. For example, BioRegional’s One Planet Communities are not only zero-carbon and zero-waste communities, but they’re designed to make it convenient and compelling for people to make a precipitous drop in their carbon footprints while increasing their quality of life. Greg Searle presented on One Planet Communities and his Eco Concierge pilot project, which helps make sustainable practices an inconspicuous norm. “Sustainability shouldn’t even be in the marketing,” says Searle. “We’re selling a lifestyle; one that’s healthier and happier.”
Through a resident engagement program, led by kids from the Boys and Girls Club, Eden Housing saved over $13,000 in a short period of time at three of their affordable housing sites in Petaluma, CA. Jennifer Reed also presented information about Eden Housing’s Green Ninjas who engage with organizational members and community residents on green education initiatives; another example of making the process of building an organizational culture of sustainability fun and desirable. You can view her talk here.
Susan Hunt Stevens presented on using gamification to make energy savings and behavior change fun. Through the use of an online community platform, participants in Practically Green’s approach have committed to over 1.2 million pledges of sustainable behaviors and their employee engagement platform engages over 80 percent of employees in participating companies. Practically Green uses gamification – the application of game-mechanics and dynamics to non-game applications – to prompt higher commitments create tighter community through friendly competition. Susan Hunt Stevens, Practically Green’s founder, also reminded us how important it is to eschew impersonal terms like “building occupants” in favor of “people.” You can view her talk here.
Milepost Consulting’s building operator training program regularly achieves 15-20 percent building-wide energy savings through low-cost, no-cost efforts. Their experiential-based program empowers building operators by building fundamental knowledge of their buildings and teaching them to ask ‘why.’ John Silkey told us how Milepost emphasizes building community and teams in their efficiency training programs and empowers people to be creative in tackling inefficiencies. Milepost is participating in Seattle 2030 District, an ambitious goal to halve the city’s emissions by 2030, which they hope to help achieve by establishing cross-company connectivity for people to share ideas. You can view John’s presentation here.
More CBB video presentations and slides are posted at http://garr.in/2012cbb.
The Garrison Institute’s Climate, Mind and Behavior (CMB) program is currently seeking a full-time Program Coordinator. The Coordinator provides administrative and programmatic support to the Climate, Mind and Behavior (CMB) Program Director. This position is responsible for coordinating the CMB symposia, writing electronic newsletters, drafting program communications, managing an online resource library, and coordinating regional CMB hubs. The position requires 3+ years administrative experience, with some as a coordinator organizing events, conferences or trainings, and a Masters Degree preferred in the social sciences, environmental humanities and/or environmental studies. The CMB program works to translate social science research into smart new programs that reduce our energy and carbon footprints in ways that are better aligned with existing social systems, behavioral predispositions and cognitive biases.
View a full description for the Program Coordinator position.
The CMB program’s five regional hubs provide people with the opportunity to engage with their regional community on the human dimensions of energy and climate issues. Hubs are active in the Pacific Northwest, New York, Denver, and Charlotte with a Boston hub in formation. Regional hubs create additional opportunities to learn from the work presented at the CMB, CBB, and CCB symposiums. CMB hubs meet on a quarterly basis for informative presentations by guest speakers and discussions with local companies and organizations that are engaging in people-centered energy and climate initiatives.
Here are the dates for upcoming meetings:
In a recent experiment to find out whether more user-friendly programmable thermostats (PT) facilitate more energy saving behavior, researchers at Fraunhofer’s Center for Sustainable Energy Systems equipped 83 households with either a high-usability touch screen PT or low-usability button interface model. The field study was partially funded by the Department of Energy’s Building America program.
After collecting data for most of the heating season (December though April), engineers analyzed sensor data to determine whether occupants were actually using the thermostats’ energy-savings settings. Initial data showed thermostat usability had no meaningful effect on how often home occupants used default energy-saving settings on their thermostats. The results are both surprising, and suggestive. Here’s why:
In 1995, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the EnergyStar programmable thermostat (PT) program, which actively promoted PTs as a means of saving energy and money. Today, most US households use either manual (48%) or programmable (37%) thermostats to regulate their heating (US Energy Information Administration (EIA), 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey).
PTs are only useful to the extent that users can understand and control their energy-saving settings. The typical device has a wide range of functions – separate schedules for weekdays, weekends, vacations, a hold or override option, etc. – laid out with confusing abbreviations, terminology, symbols and interface elements. Add to that general user misconceptions, such as “heating all the time is more efficient than turning the heat off” or “a thermostat is simply an on/off switch” (Meier et al., 2011), and it’s not hard to see why earlier studies of PTs did not demonstrate clear energy savings.
Subsequent research focused on thermostat usability and how it can lead to household energy savings. The EPA started redeveloping its EnergyStar thermostat program for new usability-based specifications. But the preliminary results from the Fraunhofer’s Center study indicate that usability may not be as important as originally believed. For example, it found only 3% of households studied used default nighttime setbacks on the coldest nights of the past heating season, regardless of what kind of thermostat they had.
These findings suggest that while technologies like PTs might enable energy saving behavior, behavioral factors and household dynamics are also essential parts of the equation. Even the best-designed device can’t save energy unless consumers are empowered to change their habits. To adopt new behaviors, people need three basic things, according to the work of B. J. Fogg: ability, motivation and triggers. A programmable thermostat provides the theoretical ability to reduce energy consumption, but not the motivation or trigger to actually use it.
In her presentation of the Fraunhofer CSE study with Kurt Roth at CBB, Olga Sachs told us the next steps in this research will be to investigate ways of enhancing motivation and triggers in conjunction with PT technology. That could inform building energy performance simulation models and provide more accurate predictions of post-construction building energy use.
You can view Sachs and Roth’s CBB presentation here. Their research will also be published in a paper and presented as part of the conference proceedings at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) Summer Study in August.
In recent months YPCCC released three reports based on their new national survey, which polled over 1000 adults. The reports reveal Americans’ current beliefs and attitudes about climate, energy and weather-related issues.
YPCCC’s "Extreme Weather, Climate & Preparedness in the American Mind" shows 82% of Americans say they experienced an extreme weather event or natural disaster in the past year. Many reported extreme weather in their area became more frequent and/or damaging. A large majority believed global warming made a number of high-profile extreme weather events worse, and most also say US weather is getting worse. Yet only about a third said they had a disaster plan or an emergency supply kit in their homes.
The second report, “Public Support for Climate and Energy Policies”, found that most people in the US think global warming and clean energy should be national priorities, and want more action by elected officials, corporations and citizens. A majority of survey respondents support a variety of climate change and energy policies, including holding fossil fuel companies responsible for all the “hidden costs” of their products. Most also said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports a “revenue-neutral” tax shift from income taxes to fossil fuels, and that global warming will be one of the issues that determine their vote for President this fall.
The third YPCCC report, “Americans’ Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes” found 47% percent of respondents trusted President Obama as a source of information on global warming versus 21% who trusted former Governor Mitt Romney, whose trust levels have dropped 5 points since November 2011. 66% believe global warming is happening (up three points from November 2011), while 46% believe global warming is caused by human activity (down four points from November 2011). Only 14% say they do not believe global warming is real, but respondents think denial is more common than it is; they overestimated the number to be 21%.
In addition to climate change in the American mind, YPCCC also conducts research on international public opinion on climate change, vulnerability to sea level rise and coastal erosion in northwest Alaska, as well as the Roper/Yale environmental poll. You can find this research on YPCCC’s Publications and Reports page.
These articles and many more can be found in the CMB Resource Library.
Kahan, D. et al. (2012) The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change Journal June 2012 Vol. 2 Issue 6
Conlon, E. and Glavas, A. (2012) The relationship between corporate sustainability and firm financial performance. Notre Dame
Hargreaves, T. et al. (2010) Making energy visible: A qualitative field study of how householders interact with feedback from smart energy monitors. Energy Policy Journal Vol. 38 Issue 10
Allcott, H. and Mullainathan, S. 2010. Behavior and Energy Policy. Science Magazine Volume 327
Fogg, BJ. 2009. A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design.
Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez Contact/Bio
Climate, Mind and Behavior Leadership Council:
Dina Biscotti, UC Davis
Uwe Brandes, Urban Land Institute
Marilyn Cornelius, Stanford University
Jeff Domanski, Princeton University
Becky Ford, University of Otago, New Zealand
Ruth Greenspan-Bell, Woodrow Wilson Intl Center for Scholars
Lauren Kubiak, Natural Resources Defense Council
Skip Laitner, ACEEE
John McIlwain, Urban Land Institute
Nils Moe, Urban Sustainability Directors Network
Phil Payne, Gingko Residential
Roger Platt, USGBC
Jonathan Rose, Garrison Institute Board Member
Kurth Roth, Fraunhofer Institute
Jonathan Rowson, RSA
Rachael Shwom, Rutgers University
Jennifer Tabanico, Action Research
Jason Twill, Vulcan Inc.