Theses Doctoral

Saving Money or Saving Energy? Decision Architecture and Decision Modes to Encourage Energy Saving Behaviors

Forster, Hale A.

Reducing energy use is a critical near-term strategy to mitigate climate change. Energy savings behaviors provide multiple benefits to the consumer and to society in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions: financial savings from lower energy bills, improved home comfort, fossil fuel resource conservation, energy independence, and improved local and indoor air quality, among others. Yet many policies to encourage reductions in energy use continue to focus on motivating behavior change with financial benefits, and little behavioral research has explored how these multiple benefits influence energy use decisions. Given the continued need for decreased energy use, more research is needed on how to leverage both financial and nonfinancial motivations to encourage energy saving behaviors. This dissertation consists of three separate papers, each addressing different elements of how individuals integrate financial and nonfinancial benefits to make energy use decisions. It presents the results of eight online and field studies conducted with over 395,000 U.S. residents. Chapters 1 and 2 focus on the decision architecture of the presentation of multiple benefits. Chapter 1 develops an inconspicuous change in savings metric to gently nudge individuals to consider energy use in addition to financial savings. It shows that presenting energy savings as a percentage of end-use energy increases behavioral adoption compared to a standard presentation of dollars saved. Chapter 2 explicitly presents environmental benefits in different ways, examining whether message effectiveness differs according to participants’ political ideologies. It shows that presenting environmental benefits in addition to financial benefits can increase interest in a large energy efficiency investment. Furthermore, while environmental benefits framed as climate change are motivating only for liberals, environmental benefits framed as stewardship and energy independence are motivating for both liberals and conservatives. Chapter 3 develops a measurement scale for a potential mechanism explaining why environmental and financial benefit frames lead to different decision outcomes: decision modes, or the qualitatively different ways that people make decisions. It defines six decision modes: calculation, affect, social norms, identity, habitual, and moral. These papers contribute to the behavioral science literature, expanding our understanding of the ways that decision makers incorporate the financial and environmental benefits of energy saving behaviors when making energy savings choices. These papers also provide actionable insights for policy makers to decrease energy consumption by improving the presentation of energy saving decisions.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Purdie-Greenaway, Valerie J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 6, 2020