Environmental health benefits motivate electricity savings

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have found that environmental health concerns, not money, inspire people to save energy. Their findings could significantly impact how energy efficiency policies are designed and implemented.

The multidisciplinary study showed that telling people how much pollution they could prevent is a far more powerful motivator than cost savings. Repeated messages focused on environmental benefits caused people to cut their energy use by an average of 8 per cent. The change was even more pronounced for people with children living in the home, who reduced their electricity use by up to 19 per cent.

Those who heard regular messages about how much money they could save made virtually no changes.

The researchers believe the environment-focused messages were effective because they combined two ideas — that energy reductions would cut air pollution and reduce the risk for the diseases it caused — so people saw the benefit for themselves and society.

“We’re finding that you have to bundle the public good with the private good,” said Magali Delmas, the study’s principle investigator.

The cost-savings pitch might have been less effective in part because electricity is relatively inexpensive, explained co-author Omar Asensio: “The savings for cutting back to using the same as their most efficient neighbour would only be USD4 to USD6 per month. That’s a fast-food combo meal.”

The team also created a website that enabled them and the residents participating in the study to track real-time electricity use and see energy-use data for individual appliances and systems. This allowed residents to track spikes in energy use when they ran the dishwasher or contrast the electricity used when they watched television in the evening to when they were out for the day.

“Electricity is still largely invisible to people,” Delmas said. “We want to help them see it.”


Photo credit: Marius Brede, flickr/Creative Commons


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