Opportunities and insights for reducing fossil fuel consumption by households and organizations


Realizing the ambitious commitments of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) will require new ways of meeting human needs previously met by burning fossil fuels. Technological developments will be critical, but so will accelerated adoption of promising low-emission technologies and practices. National commitments will be more achievable if interventions take into account key psychological, social, cultural and organizational factors that influence energy choices, along with factors of an infrastructural, technical and economic nature. Broader engagement of social and behavioural science is needed to identify promising opportunities for reducing fossil fuel consumption. Here we discuss opportunities for change in households and organizations, primarily at short and intermediate timescales, and identify opportunities that have been underused in much of energy policy. Based on this survey, we suggest design principles for interventions by governments and other organizations, and identify areas of emphasis for future social science and interdisciplinary research.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Hirst, E. & Brown, M. Closing the efficiency gap: barriers to the efficient use of energy. Resour. Conserv. Recy. 3, 267–281 (1990).

  2. 2

    Brown, M. A. & Wang, Y. Green Savings: How Policies and Markets Drive Energy Efficiency (Praeger, 2015).

  3. 3

    National Research Council Energy Use: The Human Dimension (eds Stern, P. C. & Aronson, E. ) (Freeman, 1984).

  4. 4

    Stern, P. C. Individual and household interactions with energy systems: toward integrated understanding. Energy Res. Social Sci. 1, 41–48 (2014).

  5. 5

    Keohane, R. O. & Victor, D. G. Cooperation and discord in global climate policy. Nature Clim. Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2937 (2016).

  6. 6

    McKenzie-Mohr, D. Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing (New Society, 2013).

  7. 7

    Vandenbergh, M. P. & Gilligan, J. M. Beyond gridlock. Columb. J. Environ. Law 40, 217–359 (2015).

  8. 8

    Janda, K. B. & Parag, Y. A middle-out approach for improving energy performance in buildings. Building Res. Inform. 41, 39–50 (2013).

  9. 9

    Parag, Y. & Janda, K. B. More than filler: middle actors and socio-technical change in the energy system from the ‘middle-out’. Energy Res. Social Sci. 3, 102–112 (2014).

  10. 10

    Steg, L., Perlaviciute, G. & van der Werff, E. Understanding the human dimensions of a sustainable energy transition. Front. Psychol. 6 805 (2015).

  11. 11

    Ruepert, A. M., Steg, L. & Keizer, K. in The Psychology of Green Organizations (eds Robertson, J. L. & Barling, J. ) 33–57 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).

  12. 12

    Bertoldi, P., Hirl, B. & Labanca, N. Energy Efficiency Status Report Luxemburg (Publication Office of the European Union, 2012).

  13. 13

    Dietz, T., Gardner, G. T., Gilligan, J., Stern, P. C. & Vandenbergh, M. P. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 18452–18456 (2009).

  14. 14

    Vandenbergh, M. P., Stern, P. C., Gardner, G. T., Dietz, T. & Gilligan, J. M. Implementing the behavioral wedge: designing and adopting effective carbon emissions reduction programs. Environ. Law Reporter 40, 10547–10552 (2010).

  15. 15

    IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  16. 16

    Attari, S. Z., DeKay, M. L., Davidson, C. I. & De Bruin, W. B. Public perceptions of energy consumption and savings. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 16054–16059 (2010).

  17. 17

    Nolan, J. M., Schultz, P. W., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J. & Griskevicius, V. Normative social influence is underdetected. Pers. Social Psychol. Bull. 34, 913–923 (2008).

  18. 18

    Dietz, T. in Oxford Handbook of Values (eds Brosch, T. & Sander, D. ) 329–349 (Oxford Univ. Press, in the press).

  19. 19

    Steg, L. & De Groot, J. I. M. in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental and Conservation Psychology (ed. Clayton, S. D. ) 81–92 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2012).

  20. 20

    Asensio, O. I. & Delmas, M. A. Nonprice incentives and energy conservation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, E510–E515 (2015).

  21. 21

    Stern, P. C., Dietz, T., Abel, T. D., Guagnano, G. A. & Kalof, L. A value-belief-norm theory of support for social movements: the case of environmentalism. Hum. Ecol. Rev. 6, 81 (1999).

  22. 22

    van der Werff, E., Steg, L. & Keizer, K. It is a moral issue: the relationship between environmental self-identity, obligation-based intrinsic motivation and pro-environmental behaviour. Glob. Environ. Change 23, 1258–1265 (2013).

  23. 23

    Taufik, D., Bolderdijk, J. W. & Steg, L. Acting green elicits a literal warm glow. Nature Clim. Change 5, 37–40 (2015).

  24. 24

    Abrahamse, W. & Steg, L. Social influence approaches to encourage resource conservation: a meta-analysis. Glob. Environ. Change 23, 1773–1785 (2013).

  25. 25

    Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C. & Rothengatter, T. A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation. J. Environ. Psychol. 25, 273–291 (2005).

  26. 26

    Darby, S. The Effectiveness of Feedback on Energy Consumption. Review for the Department of Energy, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (Environmental Change Institute, 2006).

  27. 27

    Vine, E. & Jones, C. M. A Review of Energy Reduction Competitions. What Have We Learned? (California Public Utilities Commission, 2015).

  28. 28

    Kastner, I. & Stern, P. C. Examining the decision-making processes behind household energy investments: a review. Energy Res. Social Sci. 10, 72–89 (2015).

  29. 29

    Bolderdijk, J. W. & Steg, L. in Handbook of Research on Sustainable Consumption (eds Thogersen, J. & Reisch, L. ) 328–342 (Edward Elgar, 2015).

  30. 30

    Stern, P. C. et al. The effectiveness of incentives for residential energy conservation. Evaluat. Rev. 10, 147–176 (1986).

  31. 31

    Steg, L. & Vlek, C. Encouraging pro-environmental behaviour: an integrative review and research agenda. J. Environ. Psychol. 29, 309–317 (2009).

  32. 32

    Sovacool, B. K. A qualitative factor analysis of renewable energy and Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) in the Asia-Pacific. Energy Policy 59, 393–403 (2013).

  33. 33

    Bouzarovski, S. & Petrova, S. A global perspective on domestic energy deprivation: overcoming the energy poverty–fuel poverty binary. Energy Res. Social Sci. 10, 31–40 (2015).

  34. 34

    Lutzenhiser, L. & Hackett, B. Social stratification and environmental degradation: understanding household CO2 production. Social Probl. 40, 50–73 (1993).

  35. 35

    Gillingham, K., Rapson, D. & Wagner, G. The rebound effect and energy efficiency policy. Rev. Environ. Econ. Policy 10, 66–88 (2016).

  36. 36

    Kok, R., Benders, R. M. J. & Moll, H. C. Measuring the environmental load of household consumption using some methods based on input–output energy analysis: a comparison of methods and a discussion of results. Energy Policy 34, 2744–2761 (2006).

  37. 37

    Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C. & Rothengatter, T. The effect of tailored information, goal setting, and tailored feedback on household energy use, energy-related behaviors, and behavioral antecedents. J. Environ. Psychol. 27, 265–276 (2007).

  38. 38

    Cohen, M. A. & Vandenbergh, M. P. The potential role of carbon labeling in a green economy. Energy Econ. 34, S53–S63 (2012).

  39. 39

    Shewmake, S., Cohen, M. A., Stern, P. C. & Vandenbergh, M. P. in Handbook on Research in Sustainable Consumption (eds Reisch, L. & Thogersen, J. ) 285–299 (Edward Elgar, 2015).

  40. 40

    Steen-Olsen, K. & Hertwich, E. G. Handbook on Research in Sustainable Consumption (eds Reisch, L. & Thogersen, J. ) 131–144 (Edward Elgar, 2015).

  41. 41

    Moezzi, M. & Janda, K. B. From ‘if only’ to ‘social potential’ in schemes to reduce building energy use. Energy Res. Social Sci. 1, 30–40 (2014).

  42. 42

    Taylor, M. & Janda, K. B. New directions for energy and behaviour: whither organizational research? ECEEE Summer Study 2243–2253 (European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 2015).

  43. 43

    Deline, M. B. Energizing organizational research: advancing the energy field with group concepts and theories. Energy Res. Social Sci. 8, 207–221 (2015).

  44. 44

    Andrews, R. N. L. & Johnson, E. Energy use, behavioral change, and business organizations: reviewing recent findings and proposing a future research agenda. Energy Res. Social Sci. 11, 195–208 (2016).

  45. 45

    International Energy Outlook (EIA, 2013).

  46. 46

    Lovins, A. B. & Rocky Mountain Institute Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era (Chelsea Green, 2011).

  47. 47

    Cagno, E., Worrell, E., Trianni, A. & Pugliese, G. A novel approach for barriers to industrial energy efficiency. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 19, 290–308 (2013).

  48. 48

    Strachan, M. E., Janda, K. B. & McKeown, B. Change from within? Carbon management in commercial real estate. ECEEE Summer Study 101–111 (European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 2015).

  49. 49

    Brown, M. A. & Kim, G. in Handbook of Manufacturing Industries in the World Economy (eds Bryson, J. R., Clark, J. & Vanchan, V. ) 121–146 (Edward Elgar, 2015).

  50. 50

    CSE/ECI What are the Factors Influencing Energy Behaviours and Decision-making in the Non-domestic Sector? A Rapid Evidence Assessment (UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2012).

  51. 51

    Brown, M. A., Chandler, J., Lapsa, M. V. & Sovacool, B. K. Carbon Lock-in: Barriers to Deploying Climate Change Mitigation Technologies Report No. ORNL/TM-2007/124 (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2007; revised January 2008).

  52. 52

    Reinaud, J. & Goldberg, A. The Boardroom Perspective: How Does Energy Efficiency Policy Influence Decision Making in Industry? (IEA, 2011).

  53. 53

    Cooremans, C. Make it strategic! Financial investment logic is not enough. Energy Effic. 4, 473–492 (2011).

  54. 54

    Lunt, P. A. V., Ball, P. D. & Kaladgew, S. Integrating energy efficiency into industrial strategy: a case study from the European aerospace sector. Procedia CIRP 26, 241–246 (2015).

  55. 55

    Powercut Britain: Are the Lights About to Go Out for UK Business? A Power Efficiency Sponsored Major Energy Users' Council Report (Major Energy Users' Council and Power Efficiency, 2013).

  56. 56

    Janda, K. B., Bottrill, C. & Layberry, R. Learning from the ‘data poor’: energy management in understudied organizations. J. Property Investm. Finance 32, 424–442 (2014).

  57. 57

    Payne, C. Utility bill comprehension in the commercial and industrial sector: results of field research. ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings 8.271–8.280 (American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 2000).

  58. 58

    Prakash, A. & Potoski, M. The Voluntary Environmentalists: Green Clubs, ISO 14001, and Voluntary Environmental Regulations (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006).

  59. 59

    EERE ISO 50001 Energy Management Standardhttp://energy.gov/eere/amo/iso-50001-energy-management-standard (accessed 18 August 2015).

  60. 60

    Matisoff, D. C., Noonan, D. S. & O'Brien, J. J. Convergence in environmental reporting: assessing the Carbon Disclosure Project. Business Strategy Environ. 22, 285–305 (2013).

  61. 61

    Prindle, W. R. et al. Quantifying the Effects of Market Failures in the End-use of Energy. ACEEE Report Number E071 (IEA, 2007).

  62. 62

    Cox, M., Brown, M. & Xiaojing, S. Energy benchmarking of commercial buildings: a low-cost pathway toward urban sustainability. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 035018 (2013).

  63. 63

    NMR Group & Optimal Energy. Statewide Benchmarking Process Evaluation (California Public Utilities Commission, 2012).

  64. 64

    Ciochetti, B. & McGowan, M. Energy efficiency improvements: do they pay?. J. Sust. Real Estate 2, 305–333 (2010).

  65. 65

    Roussac, A. C. & Bright, S. Improving environmental performance through innovative commercial leasing: an Australian case study. Int. J. Law Built Environ. 4, 6–22 (2012).

  66. 66

    Janda, K. B., Bright, S., Patrick, J., Wilkinson, S. & Dixon, T. The evolution of green leases: towards inter-organizational environmental governance. Building Res. Inform. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09613218.2016.1142811 (2016).

  67. 67

    Moezzi, M., Hammer, C., Goins, J. & Meier, A. Behavioral Strategies to Reduce the Gap between Potential and Actual Savings in Commercial Buildings Contract Number 09–327 (Air Resources Board, 2014).

  68. 68

    Bull, R., Lemon, M., Everitt, D. & Stuart, G. Moving beyond feedback: energy behaviour and local engagement in the United Kingdom. Energy Res. Social Sci. 8, 32–40 (2015).

  69. 69

    Bedwell, B. et al. Apportioning energy consumption in the workplace: a review of issues in using metering data to motivate staff to save energy.. Technol. Anal. Strateg. Manage. 26, 1196–1211 (2014).

  70. 70

    Janda, K. B. Building communities and social potential: between and beyond organisations and individuals in commercial properties. Energy Policy 67, 48–55 (2014).

  71. 71

    Axon, C. J., Bright, S., Dixon, T., Janda, K. B. & Kolokotroni, M. Building communities: reducing energy use in tenanted commercial property. Building Res. Inform. 40, 461–472 (2012).

  72. 72

    Blumstein, C. & Taylor, M. Rethinking the energy-efficiency gap: producers, intermediaries, and innovation. (Energy Institute at Haas, 2013); http://go.nature.com/lrqySU

  73. 73

    Porter, M. E. Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance (Simon and Schuster, 2008).

  74. 74

    Lovins, A. B. Energy-Efficient Buildings: Institutional Barriers and Opportunities. Strategic Issues Paper (E Source, 1992).

  75. 75

    Guy, S. & Shove, E. A Sociology of Energy, Buildings, and the Environment (Routledge, 2000).

  76. 76

    Lutzenhiser, L., Biggart, N. W., Kunkle, R., Beamish, T. & Burr, T. Market Structure and Energy Efficiency: The Case of New Commercial Buildings (California Institute for Energy Efficiency, 2001).

  77. 77

    Biggart, N. W. & Lutzenhiser, L. Economic sociology and the social problem of energy inefficiency. Am. Behav. Sci. 50, 1070–1087 (2007).

  78. 78

    de Almeida, E. L. F. Energy efficiency and the limits of market forces: the example of the electric motor market in France. Energy Policy 26, 643–653 (1998).

  79. 79

    Stern, P. C. Design principles for global commons: natural resources and emerging technologies. Int. J. Commons 5, 213–232 (2011).

  80. 80

    Shove, E., Pantzar, M. & Watson, M. The Dynamics of Social Practice: Everyday Life and How It Changes (Sage, 2012).

  81. 81

    Geels, F. W. Processes and patterns in transitions and system innovations: Refining the co-evolutionary multi-level perspective. Technol. Forecast. Social Change 72, 681–696 (2005).

  82. 82

    Eyre, N., Anable, J., Brand, C., Layberry, R. & Strachan, N. in Energy 2050. Making the Transition to a Secure Low Carbon Energy System (eds Skea, J., Ekins, P. & Winskel, M. ) 258–293 (Earthscan, 2011).

  83. 83

    Grubler, A. et al. in Global Energy Assessment: Toward a Sustainable Future (eds Johansson, T. B. et al.) 99–150 (IIASA, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012).

  84. 84

    Boardman, B. Fixing Fuel Poverty: Challenges and Solutions (Earthscan, 2009).

  85. 85

    Blumstein, C., Goldstone, S. & Lutzenhiser, L. A theory-based approach to market transformation. Energy Policy 28, 137–144 (2000).

  86. 86

    Janda, K. B., Wilson, C., Bartiaux, F. & Moezzi, M. in Global Energy: Issues, Potentials and Policy Implications (eds Ekins, P., Bradshaw, M. & Watson, J. ) 163–188 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).

  87. 87

    Vine, E., Sullivan, M., Lutzenhiser, L., Blumstein, C. & Miller, B. Experimentation and the evaluation of energy efficiency programs. Energy Effic. 7, 627–640 (2014).

  88. 88

    Wong-Parodi, G., Krisnamurti, T., Davis, A., Schwartz, D. & Fischhoff, B. A decision science approach for integrating social science in climate and energy solutions Nature Clim. Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2917 (2016).

  89. 89

    Nocera, J. Green logo, but BP is old oil. New York Times (12 August 2006).

  90. 90

    Cool programs at Interface offset emissions. Environmental Building News (1 October 2003); http://go.nature.com/PV7UTT

  91. 91

    Shinn, C. H. ‘Super Cool Biz’ springs sales boost. The Wall Street Journal (16 August 2011); http://go.nature.com/p1JDB4

Download references


The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, nor of the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Portions of this work have been supported by UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant EP/L024557/1.

Author information

Correspondence to Paul C. Stern.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Stern, P., Janda, K., Brown, M. et al. Opportunities and insights for reducing fossil fuel consumption by households and organizations. Nat Energy 1, 16043 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2016.43

Download citation

Further reading