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Study: Peer pressure affects our energy consumption

Nest Learning Thermostat
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."