Consumer responses to energy efficiency

Dana Gromet, Howard Kunreuther, Rick Larrick

Study 1: Political Attitudes and Support for Energy Efficiency. In this study, we examine how political and environmental attitudes influence attitudes toward investing in energy efficient technology. We surveyed a national sample of respondents and asked them to evaluate three reasons for adopting energy efficient technology (cost savings, reduction in greenhouse gases, and reduction in dependence on imported oil). They also rated the extent to which different groups are a) responsible for supporting energy efficiency and b) would benefit from energy efficiency (self, government, business). Finally, political affiliation and environmental attitudes were measured.


Study 2: Political Attitudes and Reactions to Green Consumer Labels. In this study, we examine how political and environmental attitudes influence interest in buying energy efficient technology when a “green” label is present on the product. In a laboratory study with real money, subjects were given $2 and asked to choose between an incandescent light bulb and a fluorescent light bulb (CFL).  The economic benefits of the CFL were always described (it lasts 9,000 hours longer and uses 75% less energy than the incandescent).  In one condition, the two bulbs had the same price ($.50); in the other condition, the CFL cost three times as much as the incandescent ($1.50 vs. $.50).  The manipulation was crossed with a manipulation of an environmental message:  Half the subjects saw a blank sticker on the CFL; the other half saw a sticker that said “Protect the Environment.”  We measured the participants’ political and environmental attitudes.


Major findings

  • Study 1:  Conservatives are less interested in supporting energy efficiency investments, and this is driven mainly by their disinterest in climate change.  Conservatives and liberals both value cost savings and reducing foreign oil, suggesting that these are less polarizing ways to motivate energy efficiency investments.
  • Study 2:  When the two bulbs were priced the same, all participants bought the CFL (regardless of how it was labeled).  When the CFL was priced at a premium, liberals and conservatives bought it at the same rate (about 60%) when the CFL had a blank label; but, when the CFL had the “Protect the Environment” label, moderates and conservatives were significantly less likely to buy the CFL (dropping to around 40%).  An environmental message on an efficient product that entails a premium deters a segment of the population from purchasing it.  This gap disappears when the energy efficient product has the same price as the less efficient product, or when the environmental message is deleted.