Several stages mandatory to involve successfully citizens in energy efficiency

We have seen in previous articles that following its consumption does not lead a citizen to engage in energy savings and that an achieved performance is not necessarily permanent.

The involvement of citizens in an energy efficiency approach is a gradual process that meets very strict rules. However, we must remain humble: nobody knows the truth and can guarantee the success of a given process; but experience shows that the non-compliance with certain rules inevitably leads to failure of consumers’ engagement.

I have proposed for several years to my clients a four-step process, built as a synthesis of research, behavioural theories and outputs of projects I’ve seen, from near or far.

This method has many applications: it allows to build a consumer support program as well as to assess the relevance of a consumption monitoring software for households. It is indeed easy to determine to what consumer’s stages of development, a software is relevant and what to develop to make it suitable for all stages.

Each consumer will cross the 4 steps but each one will take a different time to overcome a given stage. Programs to influence consumer behaviour should thus automatically adapt to the pace.

Step 1: Awareness

This step aims to raise the awareness of each consumer about a realistic earning potential that awaits him.

Articulating at this stage overall objectives is unproductive. It is the same for impressive objectives: even if they are achievable, they lose credibility.

This step has a strong educational component: it is to explain (and repeat) why and how the goal suggested to everyone can be achieved. It must clearly distinguish the actions of improving the housing, the purchasing behaviour of energy-consuming equipment and the day to day consumption behaviours in the house.

Consumption visualization tools may be contributing to this stage. Still it is necessary that consumers can interpret the information! The information provided should primarily feed the awareness of the potential gain.

This stage is reached when consumers express their awareness of the issue, without having desire to act.

Step 2: Stimulation

This step aims to transform a conscious consumer, but still inactive, into an active consumer. It therefore aims to identify and operate motivational levers to take action, to give meaning to the energy savings.

Several levers were highlighted: the lure of gain, the contribution to the protection of the environment, the game (the consumer engages itself if the energy savings are a game providing fun), social comparison with neighbours or occupiers of similar housings …

Every consumer is more sensitive to certain levers. It must not provide the possibility to activate a single one to avoid to take the risk to limit the scope of the program. It is necessary to give the best possible chance to reach all consumers and therefore to operate a maximum of motivation levers.

Useful information at this stage are those supporting the various levers of motivation (pictorial representation of gains, comparison data sets etc …)

Step 3: Moving to Action

According to the consumers, it is more or less progressive. An information report is required to allow everyone to follow the results of his actions. It is always necessary to accompany this step for several months or years, depending on the case, helping consumers to interpret the information they receive.

This step, like the first one, is highly educational.

It ends when the consumer feels he can be autonomous to continue, when he is not any more interested in explanations, when he expresses the need to receive no other information than drifts or singular points.

Step 4: The sustainability

This last step is crucial because it is easy to lose performance when it is achieved. In terms of behaviour, the challenge is changing: it is no longer to improve performance but not to degrade it.

The information required at this stage are the drifts, alerts or singular points, and, on consumer demand, the same as during the previous phase ie the evolution of consumption and the one needed to understand it.

It may be useful at this stage to provide regular teaching posts to strengthen the competence of the consumer.

It is not certain that such a functionality is sufficient to sustain performance. A negative impact of a bad performance could help. This impact for the consumer may be economical (loss of incentive) but also at the labelling level: a powerful citizen will reach a level of public recognition (gold, silver or bronze energy consumer) he will lose in case of prolonged underperformance.

This methodological basis for the residential consumer is not intended to remain static. It is constantly evolving according to my experience but it meets the necessary fundamentals for a first level of sustainable performance.

It also highlights how some approaches can be simplistic, on the pretext of being quick and easy to implement and can result in very poor performances.

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