Research & Insights

Emphasizing The Environment Can Light Up Your Efficiency Messages

Typically we assume that the best way to get people to save energy is to highlight a lower electrical bill. But a new study out of the University of Chile, Carnegie Mellon University and Leeds University Business School suggests that this can actually backfire. Instead, it’s better to rely on peoples’ environmental good-will.

Researchers Daniel Schwartz, Wändi Bruine de Bruin, Baruch Fischhoff and Lester Lave set out to see whether programs designed to reduce energy consumption fared better when they mentioned financial savings, saving the planet, or both. They designed an experiment involving over a thousand participants recruited through’s Mechanical Turk website. Their results were published in the June 2015 Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

Participants were asked about their average electrical bill in the summer and winter and were then shown an advertisement for an energy-saving program. Some of the ads emphasized money and “reducing your electricity bill,” some mentioned saving the planet and “reducing your environmental impact,” and some mentioned both, encouraging participants to “reduce your electricity bill and your environmental impact.”

After seeing the ad, participants were asked whether they would engage in energy-saving activities at home. They were also asked whether they would enroll in an energy-saving program run by their power company, and what factors influenced their decision.

Surprisingly, the advertisement which emphasized the environment alone recruited more participants than either the money-saving ad or the ad which discussed both. The ads that only mentioned money were the least effective.

“Our results suggest that promoters of energy-saving programs may increase the effectiveness of their campaigns with environmental appeals…Broadly, energy-saving campaigns emphasizing monetary benefits can result in reduced interest in ‘idealistic’ energy consumer segments,” they explain.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 

Daniel Schwartz , University of Chile and Carnegie Mellon University
Wändi Bruine de Bruin, Leeds University Business School and Carnegie Mellon University
Baruch Fischhoff and Lester Lave, Carnegie Mellon University

Posted: July 6, 2015
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