A Review of Intervention Studies Aimed at Household Energy Conservation

Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C., & Rothengatter, T. (2005). A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25(3), 273-291.

This article reviews and evaluates the effectiveness of interventions aiming to encourage households to reduce energy consumption. Thirty-eight studies performed within the field of (applied) social and environmental psychology are reviewed, and categorized as involving either antecedent strategies (i.e. commitment, goal setting, information, modeling) or consequence strategies (i.e. feedback, rewards). Particular attention is given to the following evaluation criteria: (1) to what extent did the intervention result in behavioral changes and/or reductions in energy use, (2) were underlying behavioral determinants examined (e.g. knowledge, attitudes), (3) to what extent could effects be attributed to the interventions and, (4) were effects maintained over longer periods of time? Interestingly, most studies focus on voluntary behavior change, by changing individual knowledge and/or perceptions rather than changing contextual factors (i.e. pay-off structure) which may determine households' behavioral decisions. Interventions have been employed with varying degrees of success. Information tends to result in higher knowledge levels, but not necessarily in behavioral changes or energy savings. Rewards have effectively encouraged energy conservation, but with rather short-lived effects. Feedback has also proven its merits, in particular when given frequently. Some important issues cloud these conclusions, such as methodological problems. Also, little attention is given to actual environmental impact of energy savings. Often, an intervention's effectiveness is studied without examining underlying psychological determinants of energy use and energy savings. Also, it is not always clear whether effects were maintained over a longer period of time. Recommendations are given to further improve intervention planning and to enhance the effectiveness of interventions.

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