Energy Conservation As If People Mattered: Lessons from Behavioral Research
Paul C. Stern
A decade of behavioral research on energy use is briefly summarized to yield lessons about behavior and implications for energy conservation policy. The research shows that financial incentives alone and information alone have limited ability to bring consumers to act effectively in their economic self-interest. Consumers' motives are not only economic, but can also be usefully described by attitudinal, social-diffusion, and homeostatic models of behavior. The effectiveness of information depends not only on accuracy and completeness but on credibility, comprehensibility, and "compellingness." These conclusions from research suggest three policy principles: Combining motivation and information, incorporating all facets of these in the design and implementation of conservation programs, and treating energy programs and policies as social experiments.
Behavioral researchers have been studying energy users and their behavior for some time now. This paper briefly summarizes some positive and negative lessons we have learned and outlines the implications and challenges for research and policy. My comments draw on earlier work at the national Research Council of the USA ( Stern and Aronson 1984; Stern 1984) and on more recent analysis.