The Policy Learning Platform arranged an online discussion with thirteen partners from the CLEAN, EMPOWER, ENERSELVES, FINERPOL, LOCARBO, MOLOC, REBUS, and ZEROCO2 projects on 5 December 2018 to discuss the challenges of behaviour change. The discussion was also joined by European Academy of Bolzano, a participant in the Horizon 2020 SINFONIA smart cities project

The online discussion was opened by the Thematic Experts for low-carbon economy, giving a background presentation of behaviour change for energy efficiency. Setting the scene, the importance of measuring performance and giving frequent feedback was emphasised, as it is this that can best support long term change. The principles of nudging users, co-creating initiatives, and automating using technology were also introduced, as was the EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely) Framework established by the UK Behavioural Insights Team. More details on these aspects can be found in the Policy Brief, ‘Behaviour change for energy efficiency’. 

Following this, Nives Della Valle from Eurac Research presented the work that SINFONIA is doing on engaging social housing tenants in building renovation. SINFONIA has refurbished five social housing districts in Bolzano, and given significant consideration to the behaviour of tenants. The project set up mailboxes for complaints, created a model apartment exhibition to demonstrate the expected changes, and has emphasised that it is vital to ensure the comfort of inhabitants during the renovation works. Workshops have been held with tenants to increase energy awareness, and a real-time display is being created that will show the energy consumption of multiple apartments, comparing performance with neighbours, and giving energy saving tips.

Then followed three good practices from Interreg Europe projects:

These presentations led into a discussion of key principles related to behaviour change for energy efficiency.

Benchmarking and monitoring

Participants emphasised the importance of benchmarking initial energy use to determine where interventions are best placed, and to be able to evaluate impact, noting that you cannot manage what you cannot measure. Without measurements, we can only get short-term improvement, but not long term change. However, the impact was determined to be highly user-dependant, with users unlikely to react if there are no repercussions (for example, public building, or hotel, users).

In terms of feedback, it was noted that there are both high and low cost measures that can be enacted, from smart metres and web-based displays, to simpler usage reports within energy bills, as well as poster displays. The impact of feedback is context dependent and frequency needs to be adapted; managers of buildings will react differently to individual users, where too much feedback may lead to people feeling overloaded at which point they may begin to ignore feedback.

Expressing costs and benefits 

The participants noted that monitoring technologies may not be all that expensive, but that at a minimum, human resource costs need to be taken account of. In terms of expressing costs and resulting benefits, it was mentioned that the business case should be built by highlighting the return that could be made from investing in a behaviour change campaign, or that savings should be compared to the cost of purchasing, installing and operating solar panels. 

Community campaigns 

Discussions were also held on the topic of securing buy-in from building users, and how to use communities to effect change. Participants mentioned the importance of setting goals and asking people to publicly sign up to these goals to strengthen their commitments. It was noted also that in communities, it is not essential to target everybody, as if leaders and community ambassadors are targeted, behaviour can change through a ripple effect. An innovative approach of participatory budgeting was also discussed (see further reading), wherein energy users in public buildings make a deal with energy providers, and if they are able to reduce their energy use, they get something back. Participants also discussed a number of positive behaviour change campaigns which can be taken as examples:

Further reading 

The following items were raised in discussion as interesting items for further reading;

  • Capaccioli, Andrea, et al., ‘Exploring participatory energy budgeting as a policy instrument to foster energy justice’, Energy Policy 107 (2017)
  • Della Valle, Nives & Giacomo Poderi, ‘What works for consumer engagement in the energy transition: Experimenting with a behavioural-sociological approach’, Control, Change and Capacity-building in Energy Systems. 2018
  • Della Vale, N., et. al, ‘In search of behavioural and social levers for effective social housing retrofit programs’, Energy & Buildings 172 (2018)
  • Casal, S., DellaValle, N., Mittone, L., & Soraperra, I. (2017). Feedback and efficient behavior. PloS one, 12(4), e0175738.
Image credit: Image by Wally Weber from Pixabay