Multiple goals in energy conservation

Michel Handgraaf

The goal of this study is to understand environmental decision making by individuals. We designed a study that investigates decisions made by individuals in a video game simulating dish washing involving a choice between an environmentally friendly yet time consuming method and an environmentally costly yet easier method. We have developed a lab experiment that tries to mimic the trade-offs that are present when trying to conserve energy. We have run two experiments in the lab, one in Amsterdam and one in New York. A longitudinal field experiment compares households with and without smart meters with respect to their energy consumption and their motivations/attitudes and goals. A survey was conducted at a large Swiss company to investigate the motivations of employees to implement company-subsidized energy conservation measures in their households.


Major Findings

  • Social rewards lead to more energy conservation than monetary rewards.
  • Public rewards lead to more energy conservation than private rewards.
  • Differences in the effects of monetary and social rewards exist for people with different environmental motivations, such that people who care for the environment are most strongly influenced by social rewards, whereas those who care less are more strongly motivated by monetary rewards. (preliminary results, data analysis still underway)
  • Employees are most strongly motivated by other people’s perceptions (rather than by materialistic motives) and lastly by hedonistic motives. For employees the order is: hedonistic motives, other people’s perceptions, and materialistic motives (data analysis in progress).


CRED2 Award (2010-2015): Funding was provided under the cooperative agreement NSF SES-0951516 awarded to the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions.