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

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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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  1. These were some great ideas for implementing change rather than just talking about it! Sadly I feel like it will take an act of legislation for any of it to come to fruition, but i do hope that we can see some small advances such as these in the meantime.


  2. 51% of savings on Energy Efficiency come from the consumer once their upgrade is complete. Education is the key. That is an accepted axiom in the industry.

    Education comes from the information and it starts with the initial training provided by the company to the property owner that does the work on a structure. Education also comes from monitoring and providing the consumer with the ability to measure their success from their investment in Energy Efficiency with real data and comparisons of past and current costs.

    All available and affordable, more companies need to offer these services and more consumers will sign up to help themselves.

    Your car has more information on its performance than does your home.

    Your article misses the real story of successful energy efficiency.

  3. George Kopf says:

    Well thanks for clearing this all up Dr. Southwell. With all due respect, the last thing the residential energy efficiency industry needs is a PhD. from an unrelated field coming in and pointing out the obvious. His conclusions are painfully obvious to anyone who has ever read any EE related headlines but also show a clear lack of understanding of the real nature of the issues he’s addressing.

    For example, his first recommendation: Include in real estate listings an energy efficiency rating of homes. Wow. Where to start with this. Since I only have time for one, let’s go with the fact that real estate professionals don’t know, don’t care and are patently uninterested in EE because it’s counter to their industry’s practices and individual professional goal of making a living.

    If you want to actually effect any real change we, as an industry, need to move the conversation well beyond the good doctor’s comments.

    Come on EE Markets, you can do better than this article.