Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change - EDITED

We were given the opportunity to speak at the 2012 Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change conference, this week in Sacramento, California. The conference is extremely timely, as recent cases of extreme weather that are now being attributed by many mainstream media sources as possible proof of climate change, such as in Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover article – “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

Perhaps it was the nice weather in Sacramento, an ideal sunny 60s during the day, but the atmosphere at the conference was much less gloomy than the article, but no less important in the message. Over 700 professionals, scientists from many fields, and even utility companies gathered at the event to discuss new research and practices on energy-savings strategies that involve behavioral change. As our More for the Mission campaign develops, this conference was a great opportunity to hear other case studies, and research on how best to enact lasting change towards energy reductions. In particular, even the panel that we presented and spoke on focused on so many different approaches and scales of energy-efficiency, it was hard not to think of the potential for our organization and the More for the Mission project. 

Our session on Management and Business brought together several panelists on the issue of how various scales and scopes of businesses can adopt energy-savings. In particular, our panel included energy-experts from small businesses, governmental agencies, and even utilities. The discussion centered a lot around how organizations of all scales, even the smallest businesses, wish to understand the most impactful energy-savings strategies. It was also enlightening to hear how many of these organizations were not only driven by cost-savings, but by other issues such as pollution, maintenance-savings, and better work-places for staff.

Overall, the conference was a great assembly of disciplines ranging from social scientists, economics, architects, engineers, business managers, marketing specialists, and even neuroscientists! The range of topics was also extremly exciting, from business, sociology, marketing, and design, the approaches ranged from academic studies to practical case-studies and best-practice guides. 

Here are some highlights from the conference:

  • Andrew Hoffman, in his opening keynote, pointed out that we all have different worldviews, which contribute to different perceptions of risk and values, and as such, we may not convince everyone that climate change is real. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t effect change with a proper understanding of the audience. And, as someone who seems to have gotten a lot of hate mail as a public academic on the topic, you can’t win them all.
  • One of our fellow panelists, Tom Bowman, pointed out that smaller organizations may not find the most value in simple cost savings return-on-investment. Rather, they value many other things, such as staff morale, maintenance-ease, and even ethics and the environment. What could really reach them is helping them quantify these impacts, beyond just dollars, so that even small organizations can justify their significance in the larger issue of energy-savings.
  • Attention-Drift Diffusion, sounds complex, but is essentially what neuroscientists have noticed about our simple decisions between options A and B, when placed in front of us. There is a 40% bias of our choices towards the item we fixate our eyes on – essentially, you can manipulate choice by manipulating someone’s attention. More importantly, though, their research is in the early stages, but may help us find the link between perceptual and cognitive differences that lead to behavioral change.
  • Two psychologists and prolific authors, McKenzie Mohr and Schultz spoke together about how we need to truly understand the levels of motivation and barriers in an outreach campaign. Only with this understanding, can we select the right tools to encourage behavioral change. These two presented ideas based on psychological studies, indicating that particular tactics, such as commitments, goal-setting, prompts, social norms, incentives, feedback, and convenience, need to be aligned with the right situations of motivation and barriers. For example, feedback is not always an effective tool for behavioral change, and really only helps with overcoming barriers, and requires an already motivated audience.
  • Ann Dougherty, from Opinion Dynamics, presented on several new ideas that go beyond audience segmentation, including micro-targeting, which was utilized in President Obama’s most recent campaign. The potential for this includes utilizing data to score individuals on their potential to act, and with this micro-targeting, she argued that you often get much better results than with a shot-gun approach to marketing energy-savings.

In conclusion, the conference was a great opportunity to discuss emerging issues with a wide, interdisciplinary audience. I hope to see even more variation in fields at the next one, which will take place in November 2013 in Sacramento! 

EDIT: See the powerpoint slides from the conference - here!