Conservation Minnesota

Behavior strategies to spur energy action

Reflections from BECC

Posted by Helen Booth-Tobin


The Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change (BECC) conference is an annual event focused on understanding how we make decisions around energy usage and climate change. The conference attracts psychologists, sociologists, behavior economists, and program managers implementing and evaluating behavior-based programs and marketing.

This year, CEE’s Emma Struss (community energy program coordinator), Nicole Kessler (research analyst), and Sarah Klauer (community energy program manager) attended  the conference to connect with other industry experts and share insights in to how to spur action around energy and sustainability.

A few weeks ago they hosted an office lunch and learn to share a few highlights and discuss how they plan to bring the lessons learned in to the work we do here at CEE. Among their highlights:

Mary Evelyn Tucker from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies kicked off the conference with a keynote that highlighted the importance of engaging religious communities in climate change work. She noted Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on the environment, which called for rapid action around climate change and specifically noted the need for changes in individual behavior. CEE has seen firsthand the power of congregations in spurring energy action through Congregations Saving Energy, a program specifically designed to engage congregations around sustainability and encourage members to take action saving energy in their homes. Congregations are strong, tightly-knit communities, and leveraging the strength of that community can have a tremendous impact on behavior change.

Cool Choices is an energy challenge game for employers that “gamifies” energy-saving actions and uses social components to appeal to participants. Participants engage daily by posting pictures and earning points in teams as a way to raise awareness of possible energy-saving activities. While Cool Choices is usually used by employers with a defined, connected community and established communications channels, officials in Madison, Wisconsin, are currently experimenting with a citywide rollout. The results of Madison’s experiment could provide valuable insights as CEE works to engage city partnerships through Home Energy Squad Enhanced and other community energy programs, and could inform future program design and engagement opportunities.

lightswitch200.jpgSarah Gibson from Brand Cool gave a presentation during the session Understanding Different Models of Behavior titled “Energy is Human: Six Truths to Understanding Our Relationship with Energy.” The presentation really captured a major theme of BECC — how can we use our knowledge about the decision making process to design better marketing and energy efficiency programs? At CEE we grapple with this question every day, especially in our effort to get homeowners to take action, whether that’s scheduling a Home Energy Squad Enhanced visit or completing energy upgrades to earn the Energy Fit Homes certification. People are not always rational decision makers and even though saving energy makes sense both for the environment and our pocketbooks, that information may not be enough to lead to action. We need to find more ways to be relatable and connect on a deeper level.

Mission Critical, Mission Possible featured a panel discussion with energy leaders from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corp that drove home the importance of understanding your audience when messaging around energy reduction. For example, while many Fleet Marines may not care about energy, they care about combat power — so knowing that reducing energy can increase combat power could motivate behavior change. It is also important to note different messaging for behavior change at work versus at home. CEE is currently incorporating behavior strategies and messaging in to some of our current research projects and business programs. Commercial Building Plug Load Energy Reduction Strategies is determining the effectiveness of behavior strategies for plug load energy savings, and Energy Intelligence is working with small industrial customers to determine low-cost/no-cost solutions to reduce energy waste, many of which are behavior based like turning off equipment.

Even as emerging tech offers new tools for using energy better, at CEE we’re keenly aware that you can’t improve a tool without improving its relationship with the tool’s user. Understanding human behavior — including how we make decisions about energy usage and climate change — is crucial to building successful strategies. Fortunately, field interest keeps growing as insights like those gathered by Emma, Nicole, and Sarah at BECC 2015 become an increasingly valuable element of our work.

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