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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Persistence of Energy Efficiency Behaviors over Time: Evidence from a Community-Based Program


Rather than providing incentives for the one-time purchase of technologies, behavior change programs rely on low- or no- cost actions to save energy and reduce demand. These actions must be sustained over time in order to be effective. Therefore, understanding the persistence of energy-saving actions is critical to incorporating behavior change programs into utility energy efficiency program portfolios. Unfortunately, there are few studies that have examined persistence of energy-saving actions over time.

This paper provides new results from an evaluation of a community-based energy efficiency program showing sustained energy efficiency behaviors over an 18-month time frame. Actions were sustained despite limited program follow-up and no financial incentives. The program, which is designed to encourage community members to commit to saving energy by signing a pledge form, uses a multi-pronged approach to reach out to as many community members as possible, and reinforces messages by relying on a variety of marketing efforts. These efforts include mass marketing, outreach at community events, and contests. Using a panel study with a random sample of pledgees, evaluators were able to ask pledgees about their energy-savings behaviors four times over the course of 18 months.

Results showed that participants conducted low-cost and no-cost actions, and they sustained these actions over time. Participants most commonly reported taking the following actions since pledging: switching off lights, switching off electronics, installing energy efficient lights, using computer power management, changing thermostat settings, and using a clothesline rather than a clothes dryer. Respondents who could recall their pledge were more likely to conduct their pledged action(s) compared to those respondents who could not recall their pledge. Furthermore, “high recallers” completed a significantly greater proportion of pledged actions compared to “low recallers.”

This paper includes a description of the program model, detailed results related to sustained behaviors over time, and recommendations for encouraging persistence and implementing behavior change programs. The authors also offer recommendations for setting up tracking systems early in the program launch to facilitate a more detailed understanding of pathways to program participation and behavior change.

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