Changing Energy Behaviours: Report

Communications for Energy Behaviour Change

This document is intended to aid professionals in the energy sector implement effective communication strategies for energy efficiency behaviour change, whether that be in the home or in the workplace. After months of research, an industry survey and interviews with professionals, this document brings together academic and industrial research in easy to understand actionable steps.

The report covers:

  • The difference behaviour change can make to energy use vs. technological interventions
  • The energy efficiency steps that people will most often be implementing as standard
  • A C.L.E.A.R methodology for behaviour change
  • Specific considerations for workplace and household energy usage and associated communications
  • Segmentation by approaches to energy use
  • The most effective language and appeals to drive performance uplift
  • Barriers to energy efficiency and overcoming this
  • Tactics proven to aid campaigns
  • Setting up monitoring and measurement of results
  • Advice of sources of further reading
Within each section, there is an action summary to pull out the main points, which we hope will aid you in your daily role. If you're really pushed for time, you can always skip to the one-page action summary at the back of the report.

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The Communications for Changing Energy Behaviours (plain text) report

Energy is largely invisible - which makes it hard to manage. Many of us, to varying extents, are unaware of just how wasteful we are with energy through our everyday behaviours and the associated costs of this. Communication strategies are key techniques to driving energy efficiency behaviours. The Carbon Trust for example, recognises that organisations can save around 10% on their energy costs just through implementing employee engagement campaigns (1). Energy can be emotive, 76% of the UK population are worried about their energy bills (2) and many people are worried that prices will become unaffordable in the next 10-20 years (3). Research carried out by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) discovered that 88% of people acknowledge Britain needs to change how we produce and use energy by 2050 (4) but most of us are not behaving in a way to make positive change (5) – highlighting a key attitude-behaviour gap. This same dilemma is also faced in businesses. Many want to drive positive energy behaviours, but obstacles can sometime get in the way. This publication shares easy and actionable steps to help make the most of your energy communications.

Behaviour vs. Technology

One question we’re often asked is whether, with all the automated technologies at our disposal, behavioural action still has much of a part to play?
We surveyed over 50 organisations and over 80% think communications are at least ‘influential’ in driving positive energy behaviours, with 30% citing as ‘greatly influential’. We believe there should to be a balance between using communications and technology for successful energy efficiency behaviour change – at the end of the day people are responsible for identifying, buying, installing and using the technologies. It’s communications that help us to influence every one of these stages.
As figure 2 shows, efficient lighting is chosen nearly three times more than any other energy saving intervention, followed by lighting controls and building energy management systems. Behaviour change is then very closely behind, supporting our survey and research results that it is important. When considering ROI from technologies, remember it’s not always straightforward. For example you could be told that by implementing LED lighting it will take 3 years to make back the money. This may be true in a few rooms that are regularly used, but if a few rooms are only used infrequently, then the payback and ROI takes much longer. Those rooms that are not used are skewing your ROI. Creating a culture bought into these requirements helps overcome such hurdles. We’ll now look at where communications can play the largest role in energy saving, by prompting action through behavioural change and persuading people to buy-in to the technologies that offer further savings.

Behaviour change - C.L.E.A.R methodology:

We have used our research and experiences to create a 10 step approach for influencing behaviours, whether it be individuals in the community or organisations. It starts by understanding what issue you want to address and the actions that are needed to do so, to then making sure you understand who you are talking to and how they understand the issue. To change behaviours it is important to understand what drives people to behave the way they do and what messages or incentives will influence them to change their habits. This will inform what communication strategy is needed that should be tested on a controlled group before implementing on your target audience. It is then important to continuously monitor and develop this and use the collected data to inform further communication needs to increase ROI.
Whether you’re trying to influence the behaviour of your customers (e.g. purchase or in-use impacts) or your employees, the majority of the core principals are the same.


Encouraging energy and waste efficiency behaviours in the workplace could save businesses £300 million a year and over 6 million tonnes of carbon (1). Large businesses could cut 15% of their bills through energy efficiency measures. Much of this can be done through behavioural factors in the business but there are few businesses trying to engage employees with only 23% of employees in a survey by the Carbon Trust having been asked to save energy in the workplace (6). The internal rate of return for energy efficiency in the workplace averages at 40%, which is significantly higher than normal returns from business investments that are usually 10-15% (6). 
Incorporating energy into the daily practices of the business can help integrate the behaviour into the company culture. This will help prevent the behaviour from fading and help them become a
habit. Strategies may be more effective if they are brought in from the top. Top management buy-in could be key in some cases for the successful implementation of behaviour change strategies. Not everybody speaks ‘carbon jargon’, including the most senior managers. Technical specifics are not likely to engage them, so present a case, including that of the consequences of inaction in everyday language and business benefits.
Their can be a dramatic difference in energy use between different types of workplaces. In complex buildings it can be difficult for the average worker to often fully appreciate where energy is used and what the results are. This is why for energy consulting clients for example, Clarity have delivered sets of tools and campaigns to easily cut away or drill into the building visualise impacts in their type of building. Another challenge for businesses is that people tend to work in silos and see others as a vehicle of change and don’t necessarily take responsibility themselves. This is where leadership is important to encourage people to take ownership for their behaviours and the impacts. Make staff feel part of the change so they feel they are contributing. Show staff how they are part of the impact on the company performance and give them a sense of pride in both achieving this and the wider sustainability benefits of energy reductions.


Heating the home and water heating accounts for over 75% of domestic energy consumption. Consumer electronics account for over 30% of non-heating domestic energy use and lighting and appliances account for 20% (7). Business in the Community’s Be Energy Aware campaign (8) researched household energy use and found the following to be the worst energy offenders:

• Left the TV on standby overnight (45% of people had done this)
• Put the washing machine on above 30°C (43%)
• Left lights on in rooms they were not using (36%)
A lot of people tend to leave consoles on standby when not in use. If we were aware that us Brits could save £1.7 billion a year by switching appliances off standby (5), would this motivate us to turn them off? When our everyday electrical goods are left on permanent standby they are costing us £45-80 a year (5). Lots of our daily habits are wasting electricity and costing us a fortune. Habits don’t change easily and often within a household there is more than one person living there – raising the size of the challenge. The ‘Fit and Forget’ approach is easier for people than changing their habits. “To be successful, behavioural interventions need to be easy, tailored to the individual, visible and repeatable” says top executive from a leading energy utility.
The ownership of properties can make a difference. Tenants who pay the energy bill often do not want to spend money on upgrading a property they don’t own and the landlords generally do not want to invest in savings when they are not paying the energy bills. There are many nuance like this that affect successful communications programmes and we’ll go on to talk about tools to tackle these.
Figure 4: Average UK domestic electricity usage


Our survey shows that 51% of respondents group their audience by different attitudes and behaviour toward energy and the environment whereas 49% admit they do not. This suggests there is a lot of communications that are being sent out without much in the way of targeted messaging. Segmenting (i.e. grouping by similar characteristics) the audience is often an important step for successful communications. By doing this you can better address the specific audience you are talking to at any occasion, their habits, what motivates them, their knowledge levels and their attitudes towards energy efficiency. All of these factors effect how much people are willing to engage in energy efficiency behaviours, therefore by being able to segment your audience you can develop tailored messages to influence behaviours. Traditional segmentation based on just demographic variables is not sufficient to influence energy efficiency behaviours. Although energy use can be determined and predicted by socio-demographic variables such as household size and income, changes in energy behaviour requires psychographic variables to be considered, such as attitudes. Changing behaviours to be more energy efficient requires people to make a conscious decision.
Attitudes to energy saving vary by demographic, for example generally evidence shows older low-income people can tend to have a more savings mind-set whereas for the wealthy, saving energy to save money is less important. Younger generations and parents are generally more concerned with legacy and the environment and the well educated seem to be more concerned with ethical matters. 
With some awareness, communications can be tailored accordingly. When Clarity deliver energy related visitor centres, for example, large percentages of the audience are school children, so we really bring the energy messages to life with fun, games, characters and tools that play to the attitudes as well as the demographics and knowledge of the audience. A person’s attitude towards energy efficiency are related to how much the person evaluates energy efficiency behaviour. This is affected by a number of psychological variables which include: levels of scepticism held towards the issue; knowledge of the issue; how often they engage in a behaviour; past experiences; the perceived ability to act; the perceived effectiveness a person believes their actions will have; their beliefs; the values they hold; and the level of environmental concern they have.

Perception is everything:

Clarity recently supported a social housing organisation with their sustainability communications strategies where we found over 90% of the resident sample believed themselves to be at least ‘fairly energy efficient’ however drilling down further it is very evident that ‘what is energy efficient’ as a standard, is open to a wide degree of interpretation. This is further explained by a study in Salford and Trafford, which found that, while many people understood the main ways to consider insulatingtheir homes, there was less understanding about the level of each insulation measure that should be installed, leading to overconfidence that homes were properly insulated. Increasingly we are finding that our communications should go beyond the cliché ‘turn off the lights when not in the room’ and give people the next degree of detail – to help them save and avoid patronising them. 


A segmentation approach:

Here at Clarity, we have developed a segmentation tool that clearly identifies the behavioural groups to target environmental messages to, aligned to key motivations. Within each of these it is then important to understand some key factors to target successful communications:
• The values the individuals hold,
• The attitudes and levels of knowledge about energy,
• How much they believe they can make a difference,
• How able they believe they are to act in the desired way,
• The perceived barriers,
• What motivates these people and the benefits they seek.
An example of a segment is the ‘Helpless’ segment. Many people now accept that something needs to be done about climate change and believe they are able to do something to help, but many people still don’t know how to go about it and don’t realise that even small acts can make a difference. Some segments want to pass the responsibility to the government or businesses to make change, when actually there are lots of little things we can do that can all add up to greater benefits. Some companies face the challenge that the people they want to target, that will make the biggest difference, are the ones that are least interested and hard not to
communicate to. You will need to understand what groups exist. Identify which are your intended audience that will have the most impact and get to know their motivations, values and beliefs and therefore how we can best target them. Sometimes we need to separate out different groups within our workforce, for example, and tailor the messages accordingly for maximum results. Clarity can assist you through the
application of the segmentation methodology where this is proving tricky.


Language and Appeal

Step 6 - Identify the types of appeals they best respond to.
A study by DEFRA into consumer’s understanding of energy and environmentally related terms, found that not all terms are understood to the same level by everyone, therefore it is important to understand who you are communicating with, their levels of understanding, technical knowledge and the context in which they will receive these (9). 


There are many different types of appeals to aid influencing people’s motivations to behave. 69% of our survey respondents ranked financial savings or returns to be most effective in driving energy efficiency behaviours. Communication appeals that focus on little time or effort being needed also ranked highly, followed by savings to the environment and finally, emotional pleas. The choice of communication appeal should be determined by a number of variables such as the target audience, the context the message will be received, who the sender of the message is and the aim of what the communication strategy is trying to achieve.
This is an important variable for energy communications (whether selling more efficient offerings or relating to a financial savings figure) however it needs qualifying – having run numerous campaigns in this area, it is clear that people are beginning to become blind to the ‘SAVE X%’ headline statements in isolation, due to too many people banding them around, sometimes without the ability to deliver, leading to some scepticism and negative sentiment where the audience has been ‘burned before’. The amount at which a price/savings appeal should be communicated depends on the type of offering, the issue being addressed and the socio-demographics of the target audience – for example in a domestic energy context, the less affluent the target audience is, the stronger the price appeal should be. Financial appeals can be affective as everyone can relate to it and it gives them a tangible target that clearly adds value to the business.
Sometimes energy efficiency is also perceived to be more costly because of the capital outlay required, therefore showing the long-term benefits and financing options to assist cash flow is important. Talking about financial savings isn’t always appropriate.  For example, in the context of students living in halls, as they don’t currently pay their own bills, other appeals and approaches such as challenges and competitions are more effective in engaging them. Environment: Environmental benefits are suggested to be an ‘and’ message lower down the communications priorities unless specifically targeting a very interested segment. Energy as an environmental message alone is often not enough to influence behaviours as only a very small segment will have this as a key driver. Across all segments people are most interested in individual benefits the proposition brings, before focusing on the collective of environmental responsibility. Promoting products and services as being environmentally considerate does not always provide positive responses - as per the segmentation introduced in step 4, different groups have different levels of environmental concern and therefore will respond accordingly.
Some of the most influential energy communication campaigns have used emotional appeal to influence our decisions. An executive from a leading energy provider recognises that emotional appeal works well in some cases, such as a ‘staying warm’ message in winter, which proves to resonate with the audience. Positive messages using motivational language are generally more effective in influencing behaviours over negative language that relates to sacrifices people need to make. Nobody likes to be lectured or made to feel guilty, but we all like to be given a motivational boost. Use language that promotes energy efficiency in a positive way, building on the terms that people understand and highlight the benefits for them and relate these to them individually.
People care about the performance and quality of what they purchase or participate in – both their time and money are increasingly precious, regardless of whether they are from a more environmentally inclined segment or not. Messages need to tell people about the performance and benefits of the product or service as well as the environmental impact. Specifications, case studies, examples of other successful initiatives, competition between sites and results monitors (e.g. reception or web based feeds) are all proof points to help people buy-in to participating.
Message variety:
Traditional campaigns tend to focus on how bad individuals are with their energy use, which can lead to negativity towards energy efficiency behaviours and therefore discourage uptake. Numerous studies show that mixed messages (i.e. using more than one of the above appeal mechanisms) are more effective at influencing proenvironmental behaviour change. For example for a lower income family, the emotional appeal of warmth is closely aligned to thinking around health and financial appeals – as in ‘fuel poverty’ situations, many will make a choice between heating and food for instance.



Step 7 - Uncover the barriers preventing behaviour change

Investing in energy efficiency has obvious direct benefits to business however many companies do not engage in such strategies due to a number of barriers. If an individual doesn’t think their actions will make a difference (e.g. the ‘helpless’ and ‘leave it to technology’ segments from the Clarity segmentation above), or feel they do not have the ability to behave in the desired way, they will not engage in the behaviour. 80% of respondents from a study by UKERC (3) want to reduce their energy use however they want extra information to help them and feel they have little ability to make an impact through their actions. Guiding people to act in certain ways can give them confidence that they are able to carry out the desired behaviour. Actually showing people how their actions will make a positive impact on the environment by linking their behaviour with direct impacts. Use visual stimulus (e.g. figures, graphs, imagery) and easy to understand examples they can relate to. There is no point in telling people they can save the planet by saving electricity. Making unrealistic claims and presenting information in rose tinted glasses will make people suspicious and sceptical of your message. Present information as relevant, personal and realistic as possible. By reducing the perceived barriers people have towards energy efficiency behaviours, and making them more convenient, will increase engagement levels.

Who’s Talking?

The success of communication strategies is as much about who is sending the communication as well as the message itself. For example, some of the larger energy providers are perceived to be untrustworthy by certain segments and therefore people are sceptical of their messages. You are always going to get scepticism from staff all the way up to the CEO around energy efficiency strategies. The key is to understand your audience and the company culture and fit strategies within their views. When staff can see the positive impact of energy efficiency efforts and see the savings being made, they are more likely to become less sceptical.



Step 8 - Highlight the integrated communication strategy to effectively influence attitude and behaviour change.

Interventions to implement before the behaviour

Goal setting:
Give people goals or even let them set their own. These act as reference points that they can monitor their energy behaviour against. By showing them how they are doing will incentivise them to do better to reach the goal. This can also create competition between individuals or employees to out perform. Goals can also encourage employees and household members to work together, or compete, towards reaching these goals and create better environments and relationships.
Get people to do a written or oral promise to change a behaviour linked to a specific goal such as “I will reduce my energy use by 5%”. There are two main ways to influence energy efficiency behaviours:
1. Through psychological interventions, such as helping influence attitudes and behaviours through providing information and encouraging social influence.
2. Through structural changes such as better products, insulation and infrastructure changes and implementation of technology. Interventions can target people before the behaviour is carried out or whilst the behaviour is carried out, Getting people as explained below, to commit to a small change at first can result in bigger commitments more easily in the future. We worked on a quiz application for a sustainability consulting client, this suggested personalised pledges for the Green Deal based on their results and had a great uptake.
Information can increase awareness and knowledge levels, however it does not necessarily result in behaviour change or energy savings. People may not be aware of the environmental impact of their energy use, especially due to energy not being tangible.
Busting common myths around energy use could increase trust amongst customers and staff through being seen to be helping them understand what is true and what is myth. 
Information can be provided in different ways depending on the nature of what needs to be communicated, all of which are more or less effective for different contexts. Workshops can be an engaging way to inform individuals and can be integrated with booklets for people to take away. Campaigns are also an engaging way to inform people about energy, however the effectiveness relies on how tailored it is to the audience. Mass media campaigns do not usually appear to make a significant difference on people’s awareness or knowledge levels of energy issues and do not significantly influence energy behaviours (10). Tailored information is most effective to provide specific information relevant to specific individuals – for example for one utility client, rather than produce many thick technical booklets about solar panels being received under FIT, social housing
communities received drip fed information though digitally personalised calendars, tailored to their local area and Council – which proved very effective.
Energy efficiency communications need the right balance of information and creativity to engage people. If you overload people with too much dull information you will put them off but if you try to present the message too abstractly and creatively, the main message may get lost. A fine balance between the level of information and using creativity is key to gaining attention, engaging your audience and getting your message across to influence behaviour change.
The results of our survey suggest that people believe their audiences to be generally well educated about energy efficiency behaviours but it swayed slightly more towards believing their audiences
are not very well educated on this topic. Virgin Active for example stated they found a correlation between their clubs that are performing well and those that have a high number of staff completing their energy e-learning course. This suggests that educating staff can have a positive affect on your energy performance and cost savings. People are generally more aware of environmental issues than they used to be and are aware that they need to be more energy efficient.
Communication Channels:
Workshops and face-to-face training are repeatedly proven to be the most effective way of engaging people in energy efficiency. This was also reflected in our interviews. 78% of our survey respondents chose workshops to be the most “It is about awareness and making energy tangible. This keeps it real and visual to make people aware of the impact of their behaviour” (Energy Services Manager) effective channel for engaging their audience. Leaflets, reports and handouts (48%), email (37%), and social media (35%) were fairly equal. Other channels that were highlighted as most effective included word of mouth, colleagues demonstrating best practice and peer to-peer engagement. The choice of channel to send a message depends on many variables. To ensure communication  strategies are effective and received in the same way as they were intended, the type of channels used need to be carefully chosen. This depends on the message being communicated, the context in which the message will be received, the audience being targeted and who the sender of the message is. Successful communication strategies often need more than one channel to communicate the message in an integrated way.
Social influence:
People tend to copy others they respect, or to appear ‘normal’, so start with the most influential individuals. Making energy efficiency behaviours visible in the community or in the workplace is more likely to result in others taking up the behaviour. It is difficult for energy use to be observed by others, especially in the privacy of a household, therefore getting people to show their engagement through an item or sticker on their home or desk can be an example to others. This is why for a number of clients, ‘champion’ stories and case studies, particularly with a multi-media element can play an important role. For hospitality clients and others with many sites, we’ve often found people’s competitive spirit between teams and sites to be a very powerful driver. This was very much the case when trialled with energy reduction, producing significant savings. The use of totalisers and very visual updates really helps in delivering such initiatives.
Learn by example:
Show people exactly how they can change their behaviour. Make it easy and relevant to people so they can see the benefits. Show them not just the immediate benefits to the individual but also relate benefits to their
home or work life, to the organisation as well as to society and the environment as a whole. It is important to link individual benefits to environmental benefits so
people understand the issue and how they can make a difference.
Social norms:
Social norms are the commonly accepted behaviours in a group. These are the behaviours people tend to conform to, that are seen as acceptable. Many campaigns focus on
undesirable behaviours, which does not influence behaviour change, it just makes that behaviour be seen as a norm. Instead, highlight the percentage of people in a community or workplace
who are conserving energy and making savings. This encourages others to change their behaviours to be more energy efficient, making it seem like the norm and promoting longer-term behaviour change. An example of where social norms can be used is when comparing energy use between similar homes, which has been successful in getting people thinking. Local community initiatives can be effective in influencing change through engaging communities and encouraging people to act as their neighbours are with a “if they can do it, why can’t we” type attitude. 

Tactics to implement during the behaviour

Long-term behaviour change is hard to achieve. Prompts help people to remember to carry out energy saving behaviours through noticeable visual or auditory aids. Prompts can also be addressed with the use of technologies such as motion sensors, programmable thermostats and automatic trips that turn off electronic devices such as computers.
Feedback has proven to be a successful way to influence behaviours through giving households information about their energy use and savings. Studies have tested the effectiveness of different types of feedback strategies such as individual’s energy use, information about other household’s energy use and comparative feedback of a household’s energy use against others. The frequency of feedback has also been studied to see what is more effective between continuous hourly feedback, daily feedback and weekly and monthly feedback. Results found frequent feedback was most effective and comparative feedback was just as effective as individual feedback (10). People want information that is most relevant to them.
Incentives and rewards:
Incentives and rewards can effectively change behaviours and increase the frequency of behaviours, however they tend to have short-term effects. When the reward or incentive stops, so will the desired behaviour.
In some cases behaviours can even revert back to even worse than they were in the first instance. Rebound effects can also occur when individuals use appliances more often because they believe it to be more energy efficient. Combined interventions: Single interventions are not effective on their own. Combining different intervention strategies can increase the effectiveness on energy efficiency behaviours.

Some of the Best Interventions at Home

Giving people energy tips and guiding them in how they can change their behaviour can help guide them to know what they should do. Help people understand their energy use by showing them where energy goes in the house and the common places and activities that use the most energy. Visualising energy use and presenting them in a way people can relate to can make them easier to understand.
- Turning the thermostat down by one degree to save £75
- Replacing all your light bulbs with LED light bulbs to save up to £300
- Turning off appliances rather than leaving on standby (8) to save £86
- Drought proofing your home could save you around £30
- Thermostats and timers on your heating system to save between £70- £150 a year
- Loft insulation at 270mm deep (11) and could save up to £155 per year

Some of the Best Interventions in the workplace

Behaviour change is most effective with monitoring and targeting with regular feedback so employees can see the effectiveness of their behaviours:

• Use technology to monitor where the business is using most energy, see where lights are being left on or unused appliances and set timers to turn these off at certain times of the day
• Get top management buy-in to support decisions for investing time and money into energy efficiency programs. Show them the benefits and the business case for energy efficiency in the company
• Get together a team to lead energy efficiency behaviour change that can help enforceaction
• Identify and reward energy champions whoare performing well to be role models forother employees. Getting someone to leadthese initiatives will ensure they will have along-term impact
• Encourage homeworking to reduce energy rates in the workplace and reduce yourcarbon impact on the environment
• Training staff in the importance of energy efficiency can help to reduce costs
• Campaigns in the workplace can engage employees to help communicate about energy efficiency behaviours and guide people to change their behaviour “Relate communication strategies to what else is going on in the company and time themaccordingly” Virgin Active Head of BuildingServices & Engineering (eg if restructures are going on then it is probably not a good time to try and communicate amongst the noise)
• Realise your professional influence – you can make a difference and if your reading this, you may be the right person that can make a difference in your organisation
• Reward employees for behaving well and achieving energy savings through peer recommendations. Get staff members to point out their colleagues who they think have beendoing well
• Provide an incentive, whether that stick be tokens for the vending machine or perhaps money towards their energy bills
• As well as those preforming well, why not try and identify people who aren’t behaving well (e.g. repeat offenders who keep leaving their computer screen on). Not to name and shame  but to encourage the use of peer pressure and social influence to change people’s behaviours
• Competition can be great for engaging people in energy efficiency.



Step 9 - Test the strategy in a pilot test with a small group,

Before going ahead and launching your communication strategy to your audience, test it out first. This will let you see if the message your audience is understanding is the message your intending to communicate. Doing a small pilot test is a safer way of identifying any areas that need improving on a small scale before going big and finding out after. This could be an expensive mistake!


Step 10 - Use the data to continually refine, scale up and increase return on investment.

Measure before you get going with the campaign to have a robust benchmark, show success and take action. Companies such as M&S recognise that trialling and scaling up is very important for successful long-term energy efficiency strategies. Know what you want to achieve and set targets to benchmark your performance for continuous improvement.
Report regularly so the right people are aware of your achievements and can see the value of your efforts to the business. Regular feedback of performance data, presented in an easy to understand graph can be an effective way of helping staff understand the company’s energy use. Finning co. provide staff with weekly data in an easy to understand graph that shows
each day’s usage in a different colour to make it clear and easy to understand. It also helps them to remember exactly what happened in that week as opposed to in the last month. We hope your measurement, aided by a few of these tips helps you on the road to some big energy savings. Results from our survey show that 53% of respondents do measure levels of behaviour change while 47% do not.