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Combining information on others’ energy usage and their approval of energy conservation promotes energy saving behaviour

Households reduced their electricity use the most when they learnt both that they were using more energy than their neighbours and that energy conservation was socially approved. This suggests that efforts to use social information to nudge conservation should combine different types of social feedback to maximize impact.

Messages for policy

  • The content of social information messages determines their impact on energy conservation.

  • Combining descriptive information on neighbours’ efficient energy usage and injunctive social approval for energy efficiency maximizes the effectiveness of social information.

  • Delivering inconsistent descriptive and injunctive information reduces the impact of each piece of feedback.

  • Simply adding more pieces of feedback of the same type has a limited effect.

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Fig. 1: Home Energy Report.


Further Reading

  • Schultz, P. W., Nolan, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J. & Griskevicius, V. The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychol. Sci. 18, 429–434 (2007). A seminal work on the combined effect of descriptive and injunctive norms for resource conservation.

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  • Bicchieri, C. & Xiao, E. Do the right thing: but only if others do so. J. Behav. Decis. Mak. 22, 191–208. Evidence from lab experiments on the effect of inconsistencies between descriptive and injunctive norms.

  • Allcott, H. & Rogers, T. The short-run and long-run effects of behavioral interventions: experimental evidence from energy conservation. Am. Econ. Rev. 104, 3003–3037. One seminal large-scale randomized controlled trial assessing the impact of the Home Energy Reports on energy usage.

  • Jachimowicz, J. M., Hauser, O. P., O’Brien, J. D., Sherman, E. & Galinsky, A. D. The critical role of second-order normative beliefs in predicting energy conservation. Nat. Hum. Behav. 2, 757–764. A noteworthy contribution in the exploration of heterogeneities in the impacts of Home Energy Reports on energy usage.

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The research leading to these results received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement no. 336155 — project COBHAM ‘The role of consumer behavior and heterogeneity in the integrated assessment of energy and climate policies’.

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Correspondence to Giovanna d’Adda.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Bonan, J., Cattaneo, C., d’Adda, G. et al. Combining information on others’ energy usage and their approval of energy conservation promotes energy saving behaviour. Nat Energy 5, 832–833 (2020).

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