How to make people care about energy efficiency? Make it personal!

December 17, 2014

I just returned from the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference (BECC) – a gathering of social scientists, economists, marketers and technologists all focused on a single goal: getting people to save energy. As it turns out, it takes quite a bit of priming, educating, rewarding and shaming to get folks to lower their energy use – even by a few percentage points.

The question of what drives people to change their energy use habits and take steps to improve their homes’ or businesses’ efficiency was front and center in presentations and hallway conversations.

The overarching consensus? Energy efficiency program designers need to put people first and figure out what they care about and what emotional drivers influence their decision-making, and then design energy-saving programs that fit into their worldviews — not the other way around.

The same is true for effective energy-efficiency communication campaigns. All too often, efficiency advocates communicate in abstract terms and use data and facts rather than appeal to what people really care about.

Resource Media recently conducted four-day online focus groups in which we asked homeowners and renters from across the political spectrum what they thought about energy efficiency, plus tested reactions to images associated with efficiency.

It turns out that energy efficiency is very personal for people. People believe it is everyone’s responsibility to save energy, and they believe not doing so is simply irresponsible. People also feel good about saving energy, and are excited to share what they have done in their own homes and are very curious about what others are doing, including businesses.

What they are not excited about is the prospect of the government telling them they have to save energy, nor do they feel they have the right to tell others to stop wasting and start saving energy.

The research suggests that messages and imagery focused on real people engaged in energy-saving actions in their homes and businesses, expressing excitement and pride in their accomplishments, can be inspiring and motivating for others. It also suggests that we need to be very mindful of views about the role of government and avoid framing energy efficiency solely around policy and regulation.

Want more messaging and imagery tips? Download our new guide, “Beyond the CFL: Winning Imagery for Energy Efficiency.”

Want to start improving your energy efficiency imagery today? Download our new tip sheet.

Stay tuned to this blog for announcements of upcoming webinars on effective energy efficiency messaging and imagery as we continue to refine our thinking and knowledge about this very important topic.

Debbie Slobe

Image, above: Nancy Kirby in Burlington, VT, received energy coaching to reduce her home energy use, including instruction on using her new programmable thermostat. Photo by: Kristin Lyons