Beyond individual behavioural change - why and how

Panel: Panel 7 Community approach and campaigns

Eva Heiskanen, National Consumer Research Centre
Ruth Mourik, Ynke Feenstra, Justin Pariag, ECN, Energy research Centre


Previous attempts to change energy-related behaviour have been targeted at individuals as consumers of
energy. Recent literature has suggested that more focus should be placed on the community level and the
social aspects of energy-related behaviour. This is because there are many limitations to individual behaviour
change in energy use and climate action. These include social dilemmas (uselessness of personal sacrifices if
others don't contribute), social conventions (people are not free to chose how they behave), the limitations of
existing infrastructures and an overall feeling of helplessness of individuals when faced with the enormity of
the climate challenge. These social aspects are increasingly important the motives for energy conservation
are increasingly linked to large-scale environmental problems like climate change.

This paper examines the nature of these social aspects of behaviour change and the potential of various
solutions on the basis of previous literature. We discuss, among others, the role of communities in providing
individuals with assurance that others will participate, in shaping new conventions and in questioning old
ones, in creating new infrastructures and in empowering individuals via the alignment of intrinsic and
extrinsic motives and the provision of feedback on the results of individuals’ and others’ efforts. We then
turn to ways of going beyond individual behaviour change in practical projects. We illustrate how the social
aspects of behaviour change are addressed in six ongoing pilot projects conducted within an EC FP7 funded


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