making a small commitment to reduce their consumption can often times act as a catalyst for initiating and sustaining further reductions. Unfortunately, most social policy programs begin by making relatively large, rather global energy conservation requests of consumers, without recognizing the importance of first establishing the basic components of these target behaviors or creating situations where consumers will explicitly commit themselves to undertake these acts.
For example, once individuals make a commitment to reduce their household consumption of natural gas by lowering the setting on the thermostat, it is clear from the evidence we have reviewed, that they are even more likely to take additional steps to conserve, such as purchasing an automatic set-back thermostat, insulating their water heater, installing storm windows, and so on. Once they undertake these additional actions, the benefits of doing so may diffuse throughout a variety of other energy-related ideas. This may make them more likely to recognize the importance of reducing their consumption of electricity, recycling their household products, and even driving their automobiles less. The key to fashioning social policies that have this kind of impact is to structure them so that individuals will naturally and on a voluntary basis undertake those first, small steps. We have learned from the research described in this paper that once they do, they will quite readily be led to adopt more and more energy conserving actions. And when a similar process spreads across a large population of individuals, it is clear that it can lead to sizable reductions in the consumption of energy.
In summary, applying commitment techniques in this way opens up a number of new possibilities for developing programs that can produce substantial reductions in energy consumption across a large population of individuals. Moreover the research quite clearly supports the value of further applications of the minimal justification principle in promoting consumer energy conservation. Commitment techniques utilize relatively moderate justifications for conserving energy and can be readily distinguished from those employing strong external justifications. Moreover, they appear to be every bit, and often times, more effective than conventional techniques. Although we can only speculate, perhaps these minimal justification procedures lead individuals to attribute the causes of their behavior to