ESRI says peer pressure may be ‘highly effective’ in changing energy habits

Various governments are implementing policies to stimulate energy-saving behaviour

There is high potential that peer pressure could be effective in influencing people to adopt energy-saving behaviour in households, according to a research paper by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

Various governments around the world are implementing policies that aim to stimulate energy-saving behaviour both in homes and among businesses. The ESRI said this is “particularly relevant” in terms of the use of cooling or heating systems in homes.

For the paper the ESRI reviewed 55 original research papers on energy interventions. In addition, it carried out a survey among 1,000 households in a large urban centre in Hong Kong.

The paper notes that common behavioural interventions are based either on social influence, such as peer pressure, or on economic instruments such as tax incentives.

“The potential of peer comparison to influence efficiency behaviour is high, but remains untapped,” the paper says. “New policy initiatives should thus expand the scope for peer comparison interventions to target efficiency decisions.

“The potential to influence behaviour is equally high for both online and offline peer comparison, and independent of the number of peer interactions in the physical realm.”

It is on that basis that the paper argues that social media and online platforms could be utilised to influence behaviour, while economic instruments would be “influential” on a supplementary basis.

“Policy efforts to mobilise social influence at greater scale may be facilitated through social media and other online forms of communication,” it says.

Influential

“Furthermore, while economic instruments are perceived by survey respondents as less effective than peer interventions, they are still deemed influential in encouraging conservation behaviour.

“Thus, they may be implemented as supporting components to the social influence measures. As conservation is harder to maintain, economic measures can act as an additional push to stimulate action on a regular basis.”

Finally, the paper notes, socio-demographic characteristics “should not be considered” as barriers to the outreach of interventions.

“Instead interventions may be strengthened when they target population groups defined by personality traits (such as openness to change), environmental knowledge and influence history,” it says.

“If governments acquire improved understanding of such characteristics among a population, the effectiveness of energy interventions can be enhanced.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter

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