This recent study, entitled Altruism, self-interest, and energy consumption, tested the common belief that putting a price on an activity has the most influence on changing human behavior.
To determine what motivates the most energy conservation, approximately 120 young Los Angeles couples and families had smart meters installed in their homes and received weekly e-mails with different motivational messages over a four-month period.
Results: Reminders about potential money savings for decreasing electricity consumption showed no net energy savings. In contrast, the group that received e-mails about the amount of pollution their energy use produced and how this pollution led to childhood asthma and cancer cut energy use 8%. This health message was even more effective when there were children at home: this group decreased power usage by 19%.
Principal investigator Magali Delmas, a UCLA professor of management and environmental economist, observed that “although people said in the survey that money was the most important driver, in fact, that wasn’t what happened. In reality, health was much more powerful as a message.”