The underseen links between consumers’ behaviour and the achievement of energy efficiency goals

An energy efficiency symposium to investigate the connection between consumers' choices and energy efficiency objectives.

People tend to oppose resistance to information that would modify their usual behaviour - agreed researchers yesterday at the Energy Efficiency Symposium hosted by the Bruegel Institute, while discussing on the mutual connection between energy efficiency and consumer behaviour.

The panel was stage for CONSEED, Penny and Cobham, three Horizon 2020 funded projects to present their findings, and for representatives of the European Commission, consumer groups and the Home Appliance industry with APPLiA.

Paolo Falcioni, APPLiA’s Director General, started by defining the real need for consumers’ awareness to achieve energy efficiency results and made reference to APPLiA’s Circular Culture initiative to explain the role that everyone plays in change. 

CONSEED, researching how consumers use information on energy usage when they buy a car, house or appliance, identified positive results in the property and car sectors where the displaying of long-term energy savings was accompanied by higher purchases of energy efficient properties. Eleanor Danny, project representative, observed that the same could not be said for home appliances where providing energy savings information showed some minor positive results only when consumer choices would not be undermined or changed by the higher product efficiency and, more generally, attributes as price and capacity remain central in the consumer's choice. 

The Penny Project, assessing individual behaviour in the domain of energy efficiency through behavioural science, explained through the words of Cristina Cattaneo, how environmental messages are connected with sustainable energy behaviours as long as the person is convinced of its role in reducing environmental impact but, if this is not the case, financial messages are those that exercise higher pressure. Paolo Falcioni, commenting on the study findings cited also other interesting conclusions, like the reluctance to change and status-quo bias - a behavioural inclination that makes consumers keeping their energy-using appliance as long as possible, buying a new energy-using durable resembling the existing one, overusing appliances in an attempt to mentally amortise the initial investment cost - as an interesting analysis of consumers’ behaviour. 

Massimo Tavoni, when reading Cobham findings aiming at evaluating behaviour and interactions among individuals and their impact on energy efficiency, highlighted the role of the “moral wiggle room effect” to explain the mechanism by which people tend to avoid information that compels them to act morally when there is a conflict between a private and a common benefit, as it can apply to the climate change case. If willingness to pay for more energy efficient products increased for small purchases such as efficient bulb lamps, it did not for higher amounts with longer payback times.

Overall, lack of awareness in addition to energy efficiency illiteracy have been recognised on consumers’ side, while green incentives and a mix of traditional policies and behavioural interventions have been pinpointed as a way forward.

Paolo Falcioni agreed upon the not yet fully-grasped potential of the 25-years-old energy efficiency labelling legislation. “By adding lifetime energy cost to home appliances you may end up favouring the second or third available best option”, he noted, quoting one of the results of the projects. “We need to take stock of the findings that these researches showed us today”, he added, before concluding that digitalisation and policies are main leverages to increase energy efficiency through a better understanding of consumers’ behaviour.