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March 18, 2014
Associate Neil Lessem Co-Authors Novel Behavioral Energy Conservation Experiment

An article co-authored by Brattle associate Neil Lessem testing the effectiveness of making energy conservation behaviors publicly visible to consumers was recently published in the highly regarded environmental economics journal, Journal of Economics and Environmental Management (JEEM).

The article, co-authored by Professor Magali A. Delmas of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, tested whether energy conservation could be affected by allowing consumers to obtain positive “green reputations” from engaging in such behaviors. The study addresses the pressing issue that environmental damage often goes unnoticed as a byproduct of other activities, with most consumers being unable to gauge the impacts of their actions and those of their peers. This is especially true with electricity usage, which has traditionally been “invisible” to consumers who only received monthly bills that did not tell them when and how they were consuming electricity. Better information over electricity usage has been shown to be effective at motivating consumers to conserve, but this study went one step further and said, “what if I could show people that I am a responsible/green electricity user?”

The authors’ tested this idea in a year-long study in the residence halls of UCLA which were retrofitted with real-time energy meters for the purpose of the experiment. Experiment participants were publicly rated as above/below average energy conservers. This public recognition for their “green bonafides” motivated experiment participants to reduce their electricity consumption by 20 percent. Most of this reduction was achieved by reducing heating/cooling and the treatment was particularly effective for larger electricity users.

Dr. Lessem's article can be downloaded using the link below.