CHARM: Descriptive social norms and energy consumption

Panel: Panel 7 Community approach and campaigns

Authors:
Ruth Rettie, Kingston University
Matt Studley, The University of the West of England
Chris Barnham, Kingston University

Abstract

UK focus group research with 'dark green', 'light green' and 'non-green' respondents  explored attitudes to a range of government, NGO, manufacturer, and retailer sustainability initiatives. The study explored how respondents understood the term 'green' and its relationship to concepts such as sustainability, eco-friendly, organic, global warming, human rights, etc. Respondents found it very easy to define green and non-green behaviours, although they recognised that these were subject to change. This was because for them most behaviour was neither green nor non-green, but simply 'normal'. Respondents understood 'green' and 'non green' in relational ways and both were related to a third concept - what they see as normal. Successful environmental initiatives, such as recycling, are normalised and become part of everyday life. This insight provides a way of understanding how consumers relate to energy saving initiatives.

This research was part of the inspiration for CHARM, a major EPSRC funded UK project, which critically evaluates the use of social norm marketing. One of the CHARM case-studies will focus on electricity consumption. Research suggests that feedback on individual consumption can reduce energy usage, and that this reduction is increased by communication of average levels of consumption for relevant social groups, e.g. for a particular neighbourhood. CHARM will evaluate this process, installing hardware and testing feedback in several hundred homes, and combining this with extensive qualitative research on the customary practices that underlie energy consumption, and on ways in which these practices can be challenged and changed by information about what other people do.

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