Behavioural Science Puts Energy Use In Spin

Published: September 5, 2014

“Research shows that small alterations can lead to big behaviour change.”

The third annual Behave conference looked closely at the latest ideas around behaviour and energy efficiency. From recommendations for a 5-a-day campaign to reduce home energy usage through to a multitude of Apps to improve commercial energy efficiency, there was no shortage of initiatives.
One of the key themes was to stop talking in jargon and use language that holds more popular appeal with people’s inherent values. So too the need to embrace the lessons from behavioural science, with regards to areas like social norms, framing and salience.

Building on the need to understand how people really think and act, John Lewis and Department for Energy and Climate change (DECC) this week announced the findings of a trial to test the impact of new energy efficiency labelling on washing machines.

Despite the importance of price in purchasing products like washing machines, the running costs are often ignored. Energy efficiency labelling goes some way to providing information on how expensive it would be to run a machine but if we are not directly confronted with the costs, are we likely to take notice?

In an effort to address this problem DECC partnered with John Lewis to run a randomised control trial testing new labelling. This involved placing the average lifetime running cost of each appliance next to the standard energy rating information – making the overall energy use cost more transparent and salient.

The researchers wanted to see if this additional information had any effect on consumer behaviour. Would exposure to long-term financial incursion encourage people to buy more energy efficient washing machines?

The trial was conducted in 38 John Lewis stores over a six month period in 2013. Half the stores displayed the new information and half were used as a control. The results suggest that providing the extra information does work in some circumstances. An average of 6.64 kwh/year less energy was used by washer dryers sold in the stores with modified labels. There was a big difference between stores in town-centres and those outside towns. When washer dryers were bought outside towns, the reduction in energy use was on average 15.26 kWh/year. There was no significant change in the sales of washing machines and tumble dryers.

The findings from the trials show that small changes in labelling can have some influence over consumer behaviour. While the success should be put in appropriate context, it highlights the potential impact of new approaches to improve energy efficiency and drive energy savings.

Simon Maule

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