Motivating Climate-Friendly Behavior: A Human-Centered Approach

blog-energy efficiency-3.30.16Along with expanding our clean energy options, using energy more efficiently is an important component in the climate change fight. But getting consumers to participate in energy efficiency programs isn’t always easy. Two of the most commonly used levers – explaining the benefits and offering incentives – haven’t proven to be effective on their own. So how can we inspire people to change their behavior? Like other forms of climate communication, it begins with people. The way to get your message through is to connect with their human emotions.
This GreenBiz article offers five key approaches to effective energy engagement (which can in many cases be applied to overall climate engagement). Here they are in brief:
1. Tap into unconscious motivations. The first rule of energy efficiency communication is don’t talk about “efficiency.” This tends to make people think of sacrifice and doing without. Instead, position saving energy as an opportunity to take control of their energy use, exercise their freedom of choice, and be part of an energy-smart future.
2. Present incentives as just one of may benefits. Rewards can provide short-term results, but for lasting engagement, it’s better to appeal to people’s sense of purpose, and show how the behavior change supports their values.
3. Show how the issue relates to their lives. People think of energy as a separate, abstract entity, when in fact it’s what makes our lifestyles possible. Showing energy use in the context of everyday life makes it more tangible and meaningful.
4. Bring in more human interaction. Personal stories and shared experiences are among the most effective ways to communicate information. Ask questions, get feedback, and create environments where conversations can happen.
5. Give people control and flexibility. People increasingly want autonomy over their choices and behaviors. Offering them feedback so they can track their progress allows them to self-regulate their behavior; providing them with options lets them participate on their own terms. (This is especially effective if the desired option is presented as the default option).

5 Truths About Our Relationship With Energy

By Renee Lertzman and Sue Kochan, contributors to GreenBiz
Energy efficiency programs continue to set increasingly ambitious savings targets. But the tactics taken to hit those targets are slow to evolve, and more often than not, programs are falling short. We’ve been working with clients for years to solve this problem, and we see a core underlying issue: typical efforts to promote energy efficiency focus narrowly on specific concerns — namely, saving money or receiving incentives.
Many of these programmatic efforts are based on the assumption that if people received the benefits and incentives, they would shift their attention and change behaviors. Our experience — along with emerging social science research — tells us that these approaches aren’t compelling for most people. They just don’t work.
It’s time we place energy within an emotional context, recognizing that it is something that’s personal, intimate, and often below our consciousness. We need to apply this thinking to how we engage people around energy use, behavior change, and consumption.
In short, we need to think more like brand strategists and social scientists, and less like utilities and engineers. Purveyors of energy efficiency now have the opportunity to do this by crafting rich, dimensional communications designed to appeal to the whole person — what we call a deeply human approach.
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Image credit: Giorgio Montersino /Flickr

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