What Happens To You When Your Neighbours Care About The Environment?


Last November the U.S. government released a shocking report that detailed the devastating impact of global warming being imprinted on the Earth, particularly for the U.S. economy. In the report, they predicted that GDP would shrink by more than 10% by the end of the century if nothing was done to reduce rising temperatures in the near future. The findings of the study could prove useful to energy providers and policy-makers as they work to help customers and citizens save energy, which would in-turn reduce the global warming footprint.

Dr. Oliver Hauser of the University of Exeter Business School, who is one of the two lead authors of the study has made a statement, saying that “Many of us generally agree that reducing energy consumption is needed to help the environment and save our planet—but we have found to make it happen, we need to believe that others care about it too. People believe, rightly or wrongly, that a majority of those around them know what’s right—and they are afraid that they might be told off if they behave in a different way.”

Jon Jachimowicz of Columbia Business School, the other lead author of the study, said: “We found that when people believe their neighbours cared about energy conservation, they were more likely to subsequently save energy. This shows it is not only what most other people are doing that matters to us, but also whether we believe they care about this particular behaviour.”

The popular US firm, Opower sends over 60 million households around the world energy bills alone that demonstrate just how high their own individual energy consumption is, and how high it is in relation to how much energy their own neighbours are consuming. Since this information was regularly provided, this information has led to customers decreasing their energy consumption and has saved more than $2 billion USD in energy usage.

However, a new study that was recently published in Nature Human Behaviour analysed data from over 16 million households across the United States over seven years across the 27 U.S. states where the popular compant, Opower primarily operates, and they discovered that the same “descriptive social norm” information on energy bills produced a 2.55 per cent reduction in energy savings in some states, but only led to a 0.81 per cent reduction in others.

Mr Jachimowicz commented on the matter, saying “We were intrigued to see the same bill produce different effects on energy savings across the United States. Why did households in Minnesota respond more strongly to descriptive social norms than households in Indiana? We decided to investigate this by conducting an additional survey that elicited people’s beliefs and attitudes about energy savings and the environment.”

In another study, researchers surveyed more than 2,000 people in the same 27 U.S. states where Opower is set to operate and they discovered that in states where respondents indicated that their neighbours cared about saving energy, providing information about the energy use of neighbours was much more effective in changing behaviour.

Dr. Hauser who was involved in the study stated that “In US states where people thought that their neighbours cared a lot about energy conservation, Opower’s information about neighbours’ energy consumption is associated with greater energy savings. In places where people thought that their neighbours did not care, it was associated with much lower energy savings.” and then continued, “The behaviour of others can be used to encourage people to be more efficient in their energy use—both to save money and protect the environment. This is particularly true in places where people care what their neighbours think of them. We believe these findings could be extremely valuable for energy companies as they work to help customers save money and protect the environment.”

Start the discussion

to comment