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Real-time feedback reduces energy consumption among the broader public without financial incentives

Hotel guests changed their resource-use behaviour when they received feedback on their consumption in real time, even though they did not know that they were part of a study and had no financial incentives. Behavioural interventions provided by digital technologies are a scalable and cost-effective policy instrument for fostering resource conservation.

Messages for policy

  • Real-time feedback can be a scalable and cost-effective instrument for fostering resource conservation among the broader public.

  • Real-time feedback should be provided on the environmental impact of a specific activity (rather than on aggregate household electricity use), focusing on selected energy-intensive domains.

  • Public facilities such as schools, public transportation, or universities should be equipped with metering devices that can provide activity-specific feedback in real time.

  • Environmental motives alone are an effective driver of resource conservation, hence sustainability campaigns do not need to focus on financial benefits.

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Fig. 1: Smart shower meter.

Amphiro AG (b,c)


Further Reading

  • Tiefenbeck, V. et al. Overcoming salience bias: how real-time feedback fosters resource conservation. Manage Sci. 64, 983–1476 (2018). Activity-specific real-time feedback increases the salience of resource consumption and fosters large conservation effects.

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  • Tiefenbeck, V. Bring behaviour into the digital transformation. Nat. Energy 2, 17085 (2017). Smart technologies in the energy sector could benefit from social science research — and vice versa.

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  • Allcott, H. & Mullainathan, S. Behavior and energy policy. Science 327, 1204–1205 (2010). Energy consumption is not solely dependent on technology, but strongly influenced by consumption patterns of consumers as well.

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  • Wörner, A. & Tiefenbeck, V. The role of self-set goals in IS-enabled behavior change. In Proc. 26th European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS2018) 10 (AISeL, 2018). Real-time feedback induces individuals to define self-set goals for resource consumption.

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Funding for the original work was provided by the MTEC foundation of ETH Zurich (data analysis) as well as by Swiss Mobiliar insurance (hardware, deployment).

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Correspondence to Verena Tiefenbeck.

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Competing interests

V.T., A.W. and E.F. declare no competing financial interests. T.S. and S.S. are co-founders of and hold shares in Amphiro AG, the small to medium enterprise that manufactures the smart shower meters. T.S. and S.S. were not involved in the data analysis, hotel selection or room assignment.

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Tiefenbeck, V., Wörner, A., Schöb, S. et al. Real-time feedback reduces energy consumption among the broader public without financial incentives. Nat Energy 4, 831–832 (2019).

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