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Effective Behaviour Change. Dr. Sabine Pahl University of Plymouth. Overview. 1 Human Mind & Climate Change 2 The Role of Energy Behaviour 3 Successful Behaviour Change 4 Evaluating Change 5 Summary. Overview. 1) Why do people have difficulty grasping the issue of climate change?.

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effective behaviour change

Effective Behaviour Change

Dr. Sabine Pahl

University of Plymouth



1 Human Mind & Climate Change

2 The Role of Energy Behaviour

3 Successful Behaviour Change

4 Evaluating Change

5 Summary



1) Why do people have difficulty grasping the issue of climate change?


1 Human Mind & Climate Change

Source: http://www.actoncopenhagen.decc.gov.uk/content/en/embeds/flash/4-degrees-large-map-final

1 local and relevant scenarios

1 Local and relevant scenarios

Increased concern, reported understanding of mitigation responses and belief that actions now will make a change

Source: Tatebe, Shaw & Sheppard, 2010


1 Human Mind & Climate Change





Emissions to 2000, and IPCC projections to 2100

Fossil-fuel emissions GtC/y

High (SRES A1FI)

Medium-High (A2)

Medium-Low (B2)

Low (SRES B1)

1850 1900 1950 2000 2050 2100

Source: Met Office, CDIAC and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

1 personal and vivid scenarios

1 Personal and vivid scenarios

Young woman “from the future” talks about her experiences

Perspective taking increased environmental engagement (brochures taken, time spent, pro-environmental intentions)

Source: Pahl & Bauer, in revision


1 Human Mind & Climate Change

CO2 concentration

1769 = Watt invented the steam engine

Source: MacKay, 2008


1 Make Carbon tangible and immediate

Link to carbon visualisation

The carbon dioxide emitted by Stoke Newington School every year could fill Clissold Park to a depth of 159 cm

Source: http://carbonquilt.org/gallery/images

1 human mind and climate change

Homo sapiens neandertalensis

Homo sapiens sapiens

Homo habilis

Homo erectus

Homo sapiens








Millions of years

200 years

CO2 ppm

Source: MacKay, 2008

1 Human Mind and Climate Change

Be aware of human mind limitations

Help people overcome limitations

-> “as if” here and now



2) How important is the human dimension in energy use?

2 energy behaviour

2 Energy Behaviour

Two aspects: Built Form and Occupants

England has one of the oldest housing stocks in Europe

Improvements have been made

Cavity wall insulation from 22% to 48% (1996-2008)

Good loft insulation from 25% to 38% (2003-2008)

Source: English Housing Survey, 2010

Further potential

With all potential measures: SAP rating increase by 11.5 points; annual fuel costs reduced by £147; CO2 emissions reduction by 26%.

Source: English Housing Survey, 2010

US estimate: Behaviour change can reduce US carbon emissions by 20% in the next ten years Source: Dietz et al., 2009

2 energy behaviour1

2 Energy Behaviour

Two aspects: Built Form and Occupants


“Brown” appliances use more energy according to DECADE project than lighting, refrigeration, cooking and wet appliances

-> need to know what behaviours to target; which underlying motivations to address

2 energy behaviour2

2 Energy Behaviour

Behaviour can also be problematic

e.g., cheaper comfort, misuse of technology

Adding heating controls and smart meters may not automatically reduce energy use (Shipworth et al., 2010; Darby, 2010)

“poor treatment of the human dimension to the energy demand problem” (Lomas, 2010)

Where to start?

Target high users (Firth et al., 2008; Summerfield et al., 2010); start with the highest impact/easiest to change behaviours (Dahlbom, 2009)



3) Let’s look at some examples of changing energy behaviour

3 use social norms

3 Use social norms

Change in consumption / day (kWh)

Schultz et al., 2007

3 making the invisible visible

3 Making the invisible visible

PhD project (Julie Goodhew) on the use of thermal images to prompt householders to save energy.

Study 1: Climate Action Group in small Devon town (N = 42)

Study 2: Homebase customers who had never purchased a ‘green’ product (N = 100)

3 making the invisible visible2

3 Making the invisible visible

Study 1: Carbon Footprint from Energy Usage in the Home (KgCo2)

3 making the invisible visible3

3 Making the invisible visible

Study 2:

Every household received a raft of interventions:

- information / advice

- energy audit

- beyond energy: waste, food etc.

- £500 to spend

Two groups

The only difference between the two groups was that the thermal imaging groups received an additional thermal report

3 making the invisible visible4

3 Making the invisible visible

Study 2: draught proofing (%)



4) How can we tell if an intervention has worked?

4 evaluating change

4 Evaluating Change

Context: Political, Financial and Time Pressure

Dahlbom et al., 2009: 41 European case studies

“a lot of programmes lack a proper planning and evaluation model”

“goals and objectives not specific enough”

“few programmes based on a good prior analysis of the situation”

“little transfer of learning between projects”

4 evaluating change1

4 Evaluating Change

Is it working? Process evaluation

Did it work? Which aspects? Outcome evaluation

Set specific target outcomes e.g., number of contacts made; perceived ease of implementation; energy saved

Identify target groups segmentation – important but don’t over-segment; if you have something that works for everyone, use it?

Compared to what?

Ideally – a very similar group who hasn’t had an intervention (yet); “control group” Why?

4 evaluating change3

4 Evaluating Change

Evaluation is crucial

Evaluation doesn’t have to be expensive

Be clear & realistic on what you want to know

Be strategic about evaluating change (alternative evaluation plans?)

Integrate planning for this at the start -> Budget time & funds for this (management, analysis, reports)

Can be disseminated back to users in GM

Others councils / LCEAs might follow your good practice

5 summary

5 Summary

Climate change is difficult to get to grips with because it’s characterised by uncertainty, complexity, distance and delay

Use local, vivid, relevant messages in communications

Human behaviour is key to reducing energy demand

Behaviour change works but requires good planning and careful evaluation



Julie Goodhew

Tim Auburn

Mathew White

Jackie Andrade

Steve Goodhew

Psychology & Sustainability Group

Thank you for listening

Contact: sabine.pahl@plymouth.ac.uk