The Climate, Mind and Behavior Project has received generous support from the Surdna Foundation and the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation.
If you would like to receive email notifications of Climate, Mind and Behavior Updates, please subscribe to our mailing list.
In this Issue: Calendar of Events |Announcements|Crowd-Sourced Strategies for Engaging Multi-Family Housing Residents in Recycling | Survey Shows American Voters Support Climate Action and Politicians Could Benefit | Meta-analysis of Pro-environmental Behavior Experiments | New Books | Resources
The CMB Symposium date has been changed and will now be held June 10-12th, 2013. The change was made to coordinate with the Sustainable Consumption Research Action Initiative (SCORAI) conference on The Future of Consumerism and Well-being in a World of Ecological Constraints that will be held the latter part of that week at Clark University in Worchester, MA. The SCORAI conference (June 12-14) will focus on developing an improved understanding of the complex factors driving prevalent consumerist lifestyles in the wealthiest nations. Its aim is to generate insights into how to transition to alternative ways of pursuing individual and societal well-being in a technological society cognizant of ecological limits. The conference also hopes to build on recent advances in the field to establish a vibrant, global research community focused on sustainable consumption.
CMB network members represent a storehouse of valuable information and ideas. When asked for their thoughts and recommendations about effective strategies for creating a community committed to recycling, CMB network members responded en masse. We’ve posted the complete collection of responses on our website, and here is a short summary of some of the ideas they contained.
Multi-family housing communities face a unique set of obstacles when it comes to encouraging recycling. Since multi-family homes tend to be smaller, finding space for in-unit recycling is often difficult. Some CMB network members recommended built-in recycling stations in units; others suggested multiple recycling stations on each floor. Reuse of clothing, furniture and other items can be encouraged with on-site donation programs or by establishing pick-up days for the Salvation Army or other charities.
Often one of the toughest challenges for residents is knowing what can and can’t be recycled. Adequate labeling is critical for ensuring that recyclables end up in the right containers, keeping in mind that multi-lingual labels may be useful. Conspicuous labels that include pictures rather than text can help people quickly identify which items belong in specific recycling containers. Lastly, placing trash and recycling containers close together and emptied helps keep recyclables out of the general trash and vice versa.
Getting people motivated and engaged is also important. Many people in the CMB community expressed strong support for the establishment of green teams and for getting children involved in recycling. Green teams are typically led by tenants and are often associated with high levels of resident autonomy and participation that results in creative solutions and persistent programs. Involving kids has also proven effective and different programs have engaged them in a range of ways, from painting murals at the recycling signage areas to playing guessing games about which item goes in which recycling bin. Reaching children is also an effective way of reaching other family members. For example, educating children about food waste generated in their homes and composting at local parks, farmers’ markets or farms and may help get their families to participate in composting programs.
Information about recycling has also been turned into games and friendly competitions to make learning and practicing fun and engaging. Some examples used in a senior housing building involved the use of trivia, bingo, movies and giveaways in ‘ecology parties.’
A final strategy used by one CMB network member helped people recognize their role in the larger waste and materials system by organizing visits to on-site recycling facilities and by providing residents with feedback about their progress toward the community’s waste diversion and recycling goals.
Thanks to all the CMB network members who responded. Your suggestions can help build better recycling programs, and stronger and more interactive communities. A complete version of all the responses is posted here.
As November elections draw near, research from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication suggests that there is a net benefit to political candidates who choose to take a pro-climate stand. A recent YPCCC survey of registered voters assessed potential benefits and harms that candidates might face at both the national level and in ten key swing states. The results show that candidates are more likely to benefit by talking about and supporting action to reduce global warming. Among the key findings of the survey:
-A majority of all registered voters (55%) say they will consider candidates' views on global warming when deciding how to vote.
- Among these climate change issue voters, large majorities (94%) believe global warming is happening and support action by the US to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs. Also, a large majority of registered voters (88%) support action to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs.
- Independents lean toward “climate action” and look more like Democrats than
Republicans on this issue.
- A pro-climate action position wins votes among Democrats and Independents, and has little negative impact with Republican voters.
- Policies to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels and promote renewable energy are favored by a majority of registered voters across party lines. Among registered voters, 91% of Democrats, 80% of Independents and 74% of Republicans support funding more research on renewable energy sources.
Across party lines, the results indicated high percentages of Americans favor policies that reduce America’s reliance on fossil fuels and promote renewable energy. For example, a majority of registered voters regardless of party affiliation support holding the fossil fuel industry responsible for "all the hidden costs we pay for citizens who get sick from polluted air and water, military costs to maintain our access to foreign oil and the environmental costs of spills and accidents." A majority of registered Democrats, Independents and Republicans support regulating CO2 as a pollutant. Such findings may herald increased receptiveness of the voting public to recognize and tackle the problem of climate change, including national level policy solutions.
For more information on the study, please see the following web link.
What types of interventions actually help increase pro-environmental behaviors? It’s well known that there is no single silver-bullet strategy or treatment that is effective for inducing all types of pro-environmental behaviors. Instead, researchers Osbaldiston and Schott suggest that a more effective approach is to match particular target behaviors with particular intervention strategies. They recommend practitioners start by selecting the behavior they wish to target and then – using the information presented in the meta-review – 1) select the appropriate lead strategy (given the characteristics of the target behavior), and subsequently 2) identify the set of supporting strategies that work well in combination with the lead strategy.
In general, the results of the meta-review found that certain types of environmental behaviors, such as recycling in public spaces, water conservation or curbside recycling, could be achieved with strategies that require minimal levels of participant engagement. Other behaviors, such as conserving home energy or gasoline required strategies that relied on higher levels of engagement.
Among low-level engagement strategies, most focused on removing obstacles that prevented people from achieving a pro-environmental behavior. Overall, four specific low-level engagement strategies were identified by the authors: 1) making the behavior easy or convenient for would-be participants, 2) providing participants with prompts, 3) providing justifications and 4) providing instructions. These types of strategies have been effective in promoting a variety of relatively easy-to-achieve behaviors. For example, many public recycling programs have successfully increased recycling rates by making recycling easier, e.g. by having the proper recycling containers available where recyclables are generated, or posting clear instructions about which items can be recycled and which cannot.
Higher-level engagement strategies, such as the use of feedback, commitments and goal setting were found to be particularly effective for behaviors involving more forethought and effort, such as reducing home energy or gasoline consumption. And combining several high-level engagement strategies was especially important for especially high-effort behaviors, such as purchasing energy efficient appliances or fuel-efficient cars.
The study also identified three moderate-level engagement strategies including the use of economic and non-economic rewards, social modeling and cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance strategies access preexisting beliefs or attitudes and attempt to make participants behave in ways that are consistent with those beliefs to reduce the dissonance. “Foot in the door” treatments, where experimenters asked participants to engage in a small act first and subsequently asked them to engage in a larger act, also fall into this category.
The research suggests that moderate-level engagement strategies tend to be most effective for behaviors that span the middle ground from moderate to higher levels of forethought, such as water conservation, curbside recycling and home energy conservation.
The research also unwittingly revealed a relationship between the level of participant engagement and whether the target behavior was public or private. The findings suggest that public behaviors such as public recycling, water conservation and curbside recycling require lower-level engagement strategies, while private behaviors such as home energy conservation and gasoline conservation require higher levels of participant engagement.
When considering support strategies, the researchers found that certain pairs of strategies worked particularly well when applied in combination. Among the notable paired strategies identified by the authors were:
A copy of the full journal article can be found here.
Spiritual Ecology: A Quiet Revolution
Leslie E. Sponsel (University of Hawai`i) Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger 2012 (July)
This foundational book provides a unique historical, cross-cultural context for understanding and advancing the ongoing spiritual ecology revolution, considering indigenous and Asian religious traditions as well as Western ones. For more information and ordering click here.
America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy
James Gustave Speth (Vermont Law School) Yale University Press, 2012 (September)
In this third volume of his award-winning American Crisis series, Gus Speth looks unsparingly at the sea of troubles in which the United States now finds itself, charts a course through the discouragement and despair commonly felt today and envisions an attractive and plausible future that we can still realize.
America the Possible identifies a dozen features of the American political economy—the country's basic operating system—where transformative change is essential. It spells out the specific changes that are needed to move toward a new political economy, one in which the true priority is to sustain people and planet. Supported by a compelling "theory of change" that explains how systems change can come to America, the book also presents a vision of political, social and economic life in a renewed America, envisioning a future that will be well worth fighting for. For more information and ordering, click here.
Navigating Environmental Attitudes
Thomas A. Heberlein (University of Wisconsin) Oxford University Press, 2012 (August)
The environment, and how humans affect it, is more of a concern now than ever. We are constantly told that halting climate change requires raising awareness, changing attitudes, and finally altering behaviors among the general public - and fast. New information, attitudes and actions, it is conventionally assumed, will necessarily follow one from the other. But this ignores much of what is known about attitudes in general and environmental attitudes specifically, namely, that there is a huge gap between what we say and what we do.
Solving environmental problems requires a scientific understanding of public attitudes. Like rocks in a swollen river, attitudes often lie beneath the surface-hard to see, and even harder to move or change. In Navigating Environmental Attitudes, Thomas Heberlein helps us read the rapids and negotiate their hidden obstacles, defining what attitudes are, and how they change and influence behavior. Rather than necessarily trying to change public attitudes, we need to design solutions and policies with them in mind. He illustrates these points by parsing the work of Aldo Leopold, while tying social psychology to real-world behaviors throughout the book.
Bringing together theory and practice, Navigating Environmental Attitudes provides a realistic understanding of why and how attitudes matter when it comes to environmental problems; and how, by balancing natural with social science, we can step back from false assumptions and unproductive, frustrating programs, and work to foster successful, effective environmental action. For more information and ordering, click here.
Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Hmielowski, J.D. (2012) Climate Change in the American Mind: Public Support for Climate & Energy Policies in March 2012. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Hmielowski, J. D. (2012) Climate Change in the American Mind: Americans’ Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in March 2012. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
Krosnick, J., MacInnis, B., & Villar, A. (2011). The Impact of Candidates’ Statements about Climate Change on Electoral Success in 2010: Experimental Evidence.
Osbaldiston, R., and Schott, J. (2012) Environmental Sustainability and Behavioral Science: A Meta-Analysis of Proenvironmental Behavior Experiments. Environment and Behavior 2012 44: 257 DOI: 10.1177/0013916511402673
These and many other research articles on behavior and climate change are available in the CMB Resource Library.
In this Issue: Calendar of Events | New CMB Program Coordinator | Making Climate Communications More Effective | Midwest Residential Energy Survey Findings | New Information on the Impact of School Buildings on Student Health and Performance | Research Findings on the Commonalities and Differences in Public Understanding of “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” | Resources
We are happy to announce the selection of our new Symposium Coordinator, Susan McKeever-Duys, who will be joining the Climate, Mind and Behavior Program, beginning in August.
Susan has had a life-long career in the environmental field. Her previous work included founding Numas Sustainability, a consulting firm to assist organizations and companies with planning and implementing their sustainability initiatives. Prior to her consulting, she worked for six years at the Philips Electronics North America corporate headquarters in NYC as an environmental specialist where she developed and coordinated their annual Sustainability seminars, conducted compliance audits, and managed the company’s sustainability projects and initiatives. Susan also worked for Columbia University’s Center for Environmental Research & Conservation (CERC). As the Center’s Assistant Director of Administration, Susan managed all central administration needs for the Center’s education, training and research programs. Lastly, Susan worked at Johnson & Johnson as an environmental engineer for 6 years managing site compliance, a wastewater treatment plant and sustainability initiatives for the company. Susan has a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and has studied at Columbia University in environmental engineering and Pratt University in eco-design.
How does the Welsh government begin to address climate change in their country? – They hire a comedian! Yes, George Marshall is a serious comedian (pun intended) but when he’s not engaging audiences with his stand up routines, he takes on the role of a dedicated thought leader who approaches climate change communications with a holistic strategy, paying close attention to cultural and social sensitivities.
His experience has helped him to understand the complexity of social change and its reliance on a spectrum of actions and actors. In a recent presentation at the Climate, Mind and Behavior Symposium, Marshall observed that discourse about climate change has largely been dominated by the worldviews of environmentalists and climate scientists to the determinant of the effort. As a result, other potential climate action proponents – such as social justice groups, human rights organizations and faith-based leaders – have often chosen to actively exclude themselves from engaging the issue of climate change.
Instead, Marshall advocates a more nuanced, evidence-based approach to climate communications that applies empirical testing at every stage. This strategy places local values and worldviews at the center of communications efforts, and includes several key tenets, including:
During the next year, Marshall will be working with the Welsh government to apply this approach. You can have a laugh and learn more about Marshall’s approach towards effective climate communication by watching the video presentation: http://garr.in/marshall2012cmb
A wide range of other presentations from the 2012 Climate, Buildings and Behavior Symposium can also be viewed on our website.
Understanding how people think about climate and energy is a complex undertaking but it can provide valuable information for people who are trying to create more effective programs. Ingo Bensch – senior researcher at the Energy Center of Wisconsin – has spent years deciphering survey research results and recently presented new findings from the 2011 Midwest Energy Survey.
Among the good news is that a majority of households (73%) surveyed reported that they have taken action to save energy. Notably, households reported taking an average of four energy saving actions, including switching to energy efficient light bulbs, changing air filters and maintaining appliances. In addition, a high percentage of respondents reported having made investments in windows or doors – an action which may not be very rational from an economic perspective. Bensch hypothesizes that the cause could be linked to a misunderstanding of expected savings on the part of residents. In fact, responses to several survey questions indicated that households are prone to overestimating the amount of energy that they are likely to save from specific energy saving actions. For example, respondents reported expected energy savings of $95 per year from the installation of just three energy efficient replacement windows. The prevalence of such misperceptions may signal the need for a recalibration of household savings expectations to help people make better decisions and avoid future disillusionment.
Finally, the research found that economic concerns weighed heavily in people’s thinking and played an important role in the way respondents made sense of their efforts to save energy. In fact, concerns about the nation’s poor economic performance was one of the most frequently cited factors prompting households to engage in efficiency and conservation actions. However, a flagging economy can also act as a deterrent for investments in energy efficient equipment. In fact survey data showed that 67 percent of households reported deferring a major purchase during the prior year. Conversely, 82 percent of households reported taking a wide range of steps to reduce their household expenses, actions that included; cutting food expenditures, household maintenance costs and the purchase of general household items. The findings suggest that programs emphasizing the benefits of low-cost or no-cost energy saving programs are likely to be the most attractive to many households for the time being.
Household engagement was also greatly influenced by environmental concerns and has often been linked to concerns with family health and community wellbeing. Consistent with other research, the Midwest survey findings suggests that people who guide their decision making by beliefs and values are more likely to take steps to save energy than those guided by pleasure and happiness.
You can watch Ingo discuss these important findings and many others from the 2011 Midwest Energy Survey in a new on-demand webinar.
Buildings play a vital role in establishing an environment that is healthy and conducive to learning and teaching. Considering that roughly a quarter of our nation’s population spends much of their day in school buildings there is enormous stake in ensuring the building environment is positive. But how exactly school buildings affect health and performance is not fully understood.
A recently released white paper by the McGraw Hill Foundation and the US Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools provides new insights into the importance of building design and operations for student health and performance.
Among the topics reviewed, the study presents well documented evidence that:
The study also highlights areas where new research is need and discusses how teachers and students, design professionals, government agencies and others can help draw connections between where students learn and their well-being.
You can access the full study here: [hyperlink to pdf in our Resource Library]
Learn more about the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools program by visiting their website.
The link between climate knowledge and personal action is complicated but a recent study from the UK provides some valuable insights for people who are trying to determine the best means of linking energy reduction efforts to global climate change.
One of the most interesting findings shows that although most people identify human activities as contributing to climate change or global warming in some way, few associate it with their own energy use. Helping people to make that link could be an important mechanism to engage the public in addressing the problem.
The study also found that the terms “global warming” and “climate change” hold different meanings for people and that these differences have important implications for communications efforts. Among the public, the term “global warming” is seen as more closely linked to human causes and evoking significantly more concern. On the other hand, “climate change” is generally thought of as distant in both space and time, with impacts affecting the wider environment and future generations. The authors of the report make a point to caution communicators to be aware of the distinctly different connotations of “climate change” and “global warming” and warn against using the terms interchangeably.
The study also sheds some light on how people arrive at their understanding of climate change and its importance in their own lives as well as for society more broadly. The findings suggest that individuals are most likely to learn about global warming and climate change by relating the issues to their own concerns, experiences and existing knowledge. The researchers suggest that one potentially effective strategy to boost the resonance of climate issues would be to link the issue to air pollution, local air quality and personal actions such as car use. Such an approach would build on the existing conceptual link between air pollution and climate change/global warming that is prevalent amongst the public. According to the researchers, the weaving of climate into the discourses of pollution may ultimately bring the global environment closer to familiar cognitive and affective domains.
J. Bord, R., E. O'Connor, R and Fisher, A (2000) In what sense does the public need to understand global climate change? Public Understanding of Science July 2000 9: 205-218, doi:10.1088/0963-6625/9/3/301
Whitmarsh, L (2008) What's in a name? Commonalities and differences in public understanding of “climate change” and “global warming” Public Understanding of Science July 2009 18: 401-420, first published on September 16, 2008doi:10.1177/0963662506073088
Whitmarsh, L and Köhler, J. (2010) Climate change and cars in the EU: the roles of auto firms, consumers, and policy in responding to global environmental change. Cambridge J Regions Econ Soc (2010) 3(3): 427-441 first published online March 19, 2010doi:10.1093/cjres/rsq008
These and many other research articles on behavior and climate change are available in the CMB Resource Library.
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.