Energy Reduction and Behavioral Change w/ Todd Rogers

Screen shot 2014-03-11 at 7.06.06 PMWhen it comes to tackling one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time – energy consumption – solutions are often viewed as a maddening puzzle. For all of us frustrated by this puzzle, there is relief to be found in individuals who are developing solutions to this challenge.

Todd Rogers is one of these individuals. An entrepreneur, professor, scientist and changemaker, Rogers employs cross-disciplinary methods to find out what motivates people to reduce their energy consumption. Why does he do this? To encourage individuals to make energy reduction a permanent, behavioral change.

“We all have good intentions that we fail to follow through on,” says Rogers. ” As a behavior scientist, I study the gap between intention and action. My work helps develop tools to turn mass intention into mass behavior.”

To study the long-term effects of behavioral change, Rogers, along with the company OPOWER, conducted a 5-year field experiment which resulted in energy reduction in households all over the world. This study also developed five pathways to long-lasting energy reduction behavior.

An example of the home energy reports sent out by Rogers and OPOWER

An example of the home energy reports sent out by Rogers and OPOWER

His experiment included gathering data on energy consumption in over six million households in the U.S. Part of the experiment included sending energy reports to local households informing them of how much energy they consumed in relation to their neighbors. This friendly competition led to a 3% reduction in energy use per household.

Rogers is intrigued by what causes behavior to change long term. Therefore, he focuses on how energy practices continue after experiments are performed.

“[We] usually don’t observe persistence after we administer treatments in the field,” Rogers explains. “I’ve been wrestling with when treatment effects will persist and when they won’t, and a framework…on the pathways to which persistence will arise.”

Reducing your energy at home can range from making a habit of turning the lights off to installing solar panels to save energy and money!

Reducing home energy use can range from turning off the lights  to installing solar panels.

This framework, detailing long-term behavioral change, is especially valuable because it can be applied to a variety of sustainability practices besides reducing energy consumption.

Three years after the home energy reports discontinued, Roger’s administered surveys asking about the types of actions households practiced to reduce energy consumption during the experiment.

This led him to develop a theory detailing five pathways that cause long-term behavioral change. These include:

  • developing a psychological habit
  • having a change in mental beliefs or values
  • being influenced by recursive social processes
  • seeing a change in future costs
  • being “rip-currented” into other downstream effects that result in similar behavior.

These pathways have spread knowledge about how to influence people to reduce their energy consumption. His field experiments and framework are only the first steps towards energy efficiency and sustainability at an individual, long term level, and have implications far beyond this specific study.

For more information on Todd Rogers’ past and present work, visit his Personal Website.

To read Rogers’ full working paper, The Short-Run and Long-Run Effects of Behavioral Interventions: Experimental Evidence from Energy Conservation click here. 

Want to start reducing your own energy consumption? Find a variety of ways to do this with EPA’s website Reducing Energy Consumption.

Todd Rogers’ presentation was held last week at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. Visit their Events and Media Page to get information on future speakers that are looking to make a difference!

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