Dealing with techno-zealots and behavioural change sceptics - Making sustainability transitions work

P. Tamis; A.M. Peters; M. Milovanović (chair); E. van der Werff; N. Lauren. Location: Heymanszaal

Symposium: Dealing with techno-zealots and behavioural change sceptics – Making sustainability transitions work 

Organiser: M. Milovanović 

In various sustainability transitions we are facing, technological development is believed to pave the way to a sustainable future. Policy makers tend to be sceptical about behavioural change and believe that making a sustainable transition is a matter of developing the right technologies, which consumers will simply adopt and use in their daily lives. This symposium showcases research on topics of technology adoption, easy behaviour change (e.g. one-time purchases), hard behaviour change (e.g. long-term commitment to sustainable behaviours) and finally, behavioural spillover to domains beyond the design of an intervention. We present a line of reasoning where we stress that looking at sustainability transitions, as a matter of product development à consumption, is a far too simplistic way of reasoning. We emphasize the importance of understanding processes that guide adoption, technology use, and factors that explain why short-term behavioural change can become long lasting, or even spill over into new domains.

Energy production in the household: a literature review on desires, motives and barriers to move towards an energy neutral household

P. Tamis & H. Staats

Consumers are not only trying to save energy but are now starting to produce clean energy in and around their homes. More and more sophisticated options become available, including solar panels, heat pumps, and wind turbines. Even more complex is the decision to become part of a sustainable power cooperative using smart grid technology. We examined the recent literature on desires, needs and considerations that emerge in consumers’ one-time renewable energy decisions. To structure our analysis we used an extended version of the theory of planned  ehavior (TPB) as our framework. We found that each type of technology investment comes with its own set of requirements, possibilities and, accordingly, considerations by the consumer. Financial motives, and, to a lesser degree, environmental concern, play a role in all investment decisions. Practical reasons, too, were found: having the space, moving into a new-to-build house (especially for heat pumps), and long-term commitment to a house (mostly for solar panels). Furthermore, aesthetic motives were mentioned (especially for wind turbines), and a basic interest in technology. Participation in sustainable power cooperatives – although still scarce – seems to have high consumer interest, as it is local, allows financial independence, and creates social cohesion.

Smart energy technology adoption: identity has many faces.

A.M. Peters, E. van der Werff, & L. Steg

People increasingly adopt Smart Energy Technologies (SET), including solar panels, and electric vehicles. These are radical innovations that are expected to significantly reduce fossil energy use. Yet, SETs may challenge the stability of current energy grids. To secure the stability of the electricity grid, people need to use these technologies in a way that optimizes demand and supply balancing. We propose that the environmental self-identity will play a central role in this respect: people are more likely to use SET in a sustainable way when they link the adoption of SET to their environmental self-identity. In contrast, we hypothesize that when the adoption of SET results from different motives, such as technological innovativeness, SET are less likely to be used in a sustainable way. We present preliminary results of two studies that show that an identity manipulation of technological innovative identity may result in higher acceptability of future energy scenario’s in which SET play an important role. However, the identity manipulation of environmental self-identity did not affect the acceptability of a range of sustainability energy behaviours. This indicates a possible ceiling effect, as the acceptability ratings were high in both conditions. In addition, these favorable ratings and the enhanced favorable ratings of SET after the technological innovative identity manipulation did not affect the ratings of future energy scenario’s in which behavioral and technological change were combined. Implications for follow-up research will be discussed. 

Internalizing behavioural change

M. Milovanović, L. Steg, & R. Spears

Achieving long-term  ehavioural change is a challenging task, especially when it comes to changing energy use habits. Our research explores the conditions under which both individuals and groups are most likely to change their habits, and strengthen their intrinsic motivation to become more sustainable energy users. In the first part of the presentation, we discuss the results of a field study conducted in a smart grid pilot in the Dutch city of Amersfoort where we discuss which individual and contextual factors explained a reduction in household energy use. The intervention consisted of energy use feedback via Net2Grid tools and social feedback via the website Energy Shifft. In the second part of the presentation, we discuss the results of a lab experiment in which participants virtually produced energy on a rowing machine. The source of the energy production goal was manipulated (fellow students vs board of university), as well as the conditions under which the task was performed (autonomously vs under supervision). We discuss the implications of these different contextual conditions on performance and motivation. Results of both the field studies and the lab experiment shed light on factors affecting long-term behavioural change.

Spillover of environmental policies

E. van der Werff & L. Vrieling

Policy makers often try to promote specific behaviours by making these behaviours easier, more pleasurable or more rewarding. Although these interventions may successfully promote the targeted behaviour, to reduce environmental problems it is crucial to know the influences of these interventions on other pro-environmental behaviours (i.e. spillover). Research suggests that positive spillover is more likely when initial behaviours strengthen environmental self-identity. When people realise they acted pro-environmentally in the past, environmental self-identity is strengthened, which triggers new pro-environmental actions. The more the initial behaviour signal one’s environmental self-identity the more likely positive spillover may be, for example, when the initial behaviour is difficult. Therefore, policies aiming to promote environmental behaviour by making the behaviour easier may successfully do so, but at the same time may be less likely to strengthen environmental self-identity and promote positive spillover. We test this in a field study focussing on recycling behaviour. Recycling was either made much easier (participants received tailored tips and products to recycle) or somewhat easier (participants received general recycling tips); a control group received no treatment. The effects of the intervention on recycling, environmental self-identity and spillover are measured. Results and implications of the study will be discussed.

Understanding how spillover operates

N. Lauren, K. Fielding, & W. Louis

Spillover is the notion that engagement in certain behaviour will encourage the uptake of other behaviour. Spillover has been used to inform behaviour change campaigns, despite little understanding of how it operates and who is most likely to be receptive to it. The current study aimed to understand how certain constructs operate in the context of spillover, in order to develop a better idea of who could be influenced by a behaviour change campaign founded on spillover. An online survey was administered to 476 residents of various Australian cities. Participants were assessed on their past engagement in and future intentions to engage in specific pro-environmental behaviours, as well environmental identity, values, norms, efficacy and perceptions of individual environmental contributions. How these factors influence spillover will be discussed, along with implications for future behaviour change campaigns that are founded on spillover.