Nest Learning Thermostat. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

An interesting piece in Harvard Business Review shows that when people know their neighbors are cutting energy consumption, they tend to reduce their own.

Between the lines: The amount of the reductions is linked to why people think their neighbors are using less.

Why it matters: The analysis, based on a longer study in Nature Human Behavior, looks at one of the drivers of increasing residential energy conservation to help cut carbon emissions.

  • Researchers used data from utility services provider Opower (since bought by Oracle), which gives customers a Home Energy Report that provides info on their energy use and that of their neighbors too.
  • People tend to cut their own consumption by a range of 0.81%–2.55% when they see the hyper-local info.
  • If people think their neighbors' cuts are just incidental (say, the result of being away or kids moving to college), their own cuts are smaller.
  • But if they think their neighbors are acting out of concern for the environment, their own cuts get larger.

The bottom line: Social norms matter. The Harvard Business Review piece concludes...

  • "[O]ur results remind us that whenever we attempt to change human behavior, we must go one step beyond seeking to change what a person believes, and instead also pay attention to what they think others believe."
  • "We are social beings and care deeply about not just what our neighbors and co-workers do, but also what they think."

Go deeper

Congress' next moves to rein in Big Tech

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

After grilling the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple last week, members of Congress are grappling with whether to accuse any of the firms of illegal anticompetitive behavior, to propose updating federal antitrust laws — or both.

The big picture: Congress is just one arm of government making the case against these companies. Google is expected to be the first of the firms to face possible antitrust litigation from the Justice Department before summer's end, but all four face a full-court press of investigations by DOJ, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.

Fauci: Coronavirus task force to examine aerosolized spread


A sneeze. Photo: Maartje van Caspel/Getty Images

The White House coronavirus task force will examine more closely just how much SARS-CoV-2 might be transmitted via aerosols, and not just from droplets, NIAID director Anthony Fauci said Wednesday at an online forum sponsored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Why it matters: The longer the coronavirus can remain infectious in the air, the more likely it can infect people, particularly indoors — leading to the possible need to alter air filtration and circulation within buildings.

The next wave to hit Main Street

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Call it the great retail wash. A wave of defaults, bankruptcies and evictions expected in cities across the U.S. is poised to remake the retail landscape across the country, but there may be some upside for consumers and small businesses.

Why it matters: Rather than an overnight descent into a collection of urban wastelands full of Starbucks, Amazon fulfillment centers, Chase bank branches and nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic and resulting retail apocalypse may just mean that, in major U.S. cities, less is more.