The Next Big Energy Trend: Changing Behavior
When building support for climate solutions, emphasizing benefits like cost savings and cleaner air can go a long way. But benefits are only part of the story. Along with rational drivers like price, people make energy decisions based on a whole range of other factors, including peer influence, ingrained habits, and preconceived notions.
A growing body of energy research (including our own) has focused on using psychology and behavioral sciences to help people make climate-friendly choices. One popular way of dealing with climate change is to divide the problem into “wedges” – separate efforts or activities that reduce emissions. The behavioral wedge is particularly powerful, because it affects how all the other solutions are implemented. This approach is so promising that the Department of Defense is using it to to help cut their fuel use, as this insightful Washington Post article explains.
The article touched on a number of ways behavior can influence energy decisions. These rang especially true because we’ve studied many of these effects through our own research. Here’s what we’ve learned:
Techno-optimism. Though technology solutions are vital in the fight against climate change, the perception that technology alone will solve the problem can lead to complacency. Huge energy savings can be achieved just by making slight changes in the way we use our existing technology. It’s important to make people aware that action needs to happen now, and let them know how they can make a difference.
Myths. Long-held beliefs that are either untrue or no longer apply can also prevent people from changing their behavior. Most Americans don’t have a complete understanding of climate change or energy reduction. When their information is incorrect or outdated, we can use strategic ways to present the facts (like translating statistics into relatable terms or choosing a messenger the audience respects and trusts).
Default bias. New behaviors take effort – it’s easier to keep things the way they are. When making complex decisions, people tend to go with the option that is preselected for them. So by making the climate-friendly option the default, we can increase the likelihood that they’ll choose it.
Framing. People will react to the same information in very different ways depending on how it’s presented. A person whose primary concern is saving money won’t necessarily be moved by a message about being eco-friendly, even if “clean energy” is the solution in both cases. By tailoring the message to the audience and appealing to their values, we can help boost engagement and support.
To learn more about presenting climate solutions and inspiring positive action, download our report, Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication.
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Chris Mooney, Contributor to The Washington Post
In the arid lands of the Mojave Desert, Marine regimental commander Jim Caley traveled alongside a 24-mile stretch of road and saw trucks, tanks and armored tracked vehicles all idling in the heat — and wasting enormous amounts of expensive fuel.
Caley had already led forces in Iraq, and at the time was charged with seven battalions comprising 7,000 Marines. But this was a new and different challenge. Overseeing a major spring 2013 training exercise at the Marine Corps’ Twentynine Palms base in southern California, he was struck by how little he knew about how America’s war-fighting machine used energy.
“No targets prosecuted, no miles to the gallon, no combat benefit being delivered,” Caley, a Marine colonel, says of the scene. “At the time, I had no system to understand what was going on, and what was occurring, and how much further I could go on the same fuel.”
The Department of Defense is the single biggest user of energy in the U.S. — its energy bill in 2013 was $18.9 billion — and Caley now plays a central role in trying to ensure that just one of its branches, the Marine Corps, uses that power in the optimal way. The implications for the military are vast. For instance, the Marines alone have estimated that they could save $26 million per year through a 10 percent energy reduction at their installations and bases, to say nothing of Marine field operations, which used an estimated 1.5 million barrels of fuel in 2014.