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Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds Interventions aimed at encouraging sustainable energy behaviour will be more effective when they target important antecedents of behaviour and remove significant barriers for change. Three types of factors have important implications for energy behaviour, knowledge, motivations, and contextual factors. First, people need to be aware of the need for and possible ways to contribute to a sustainable energy transition. If they do not recognise that the current fossil energy system causes different types of problems, such as climate change, they may not feel the need to change their behaviour. Moreover, if people do not know to what extent different behaviours affect their energy use, they may engage in behaviour because they think these are sustainable while in fact, they are not.

Skip to 1 minute and 3 seconds Indeed, people seem to rely on simple heuristics, that is, rules of thumb, when assessing the energy use associated with their behaviour. For example, they think that larger appliances use more energy. This perception is accurate in many cases, but not always. Also, people generally think that curtailment actions, such as turning off lights, are more effective to conserve energy than efficiency measures, such as installing energy-saving light bulbs, which is not necessarily true. Environmental scientists can provide valid assessments of the environmental impact of different behaviours and lifestyles. Yet research generally shows that increasing knowledge is not sufficient to promote sustainable energy behaviour.

Skip to 1 minute and 53 seconds In fact, knowledge will have limited effects when people are not motivated to engage in sustainable energy behaviour or when they do not feel able to engage in these behaviours. This brings us to a second key factor explaining sustainable energy behaviour, motivation. Given the many behaviour changes needed to realise a sustainable energy transition, it is important to identify general antecedents of behaviour that are likely to affect a wide range of energy behaviours. Particularly, values are relevant in this respect. Values are general goals that people strive for in their lives. Values define what is important to people and what consequences they strive for in their lives, in general.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 seconds Values affect the extent to which people consider and weigh different types of consequences of sustainable energy behaviour. Four types of values are particularly relevant for people’s evaluations and behaviour related to sustainable energy use, first, hedonic values that make people focus on pressure and comfort, second, egoistic values that make people focus on safeguarding and promoting their personal resources, such as money or status, third, altruistic values that make people focus on the well-being of other people, and finally, biospheric values that make people focus on consequences for nature and the environment for its own sake. In general, strong hedonic and egoistic values inhibit sustainable energy behaviour, while strong altruistic and particularly biospheric values promote such behaviour.

Skip to 3 minutes and 42 seconds This is probably because in many cases, sustainable energy behaviours are associated with individual cost and collective benefits. For example, turning down the thermostat is less comfortable and sustainable innovations are often rather expensive, while both benefit the environment. Yet doing good can make people feel good and these anticipated positive feelings may encourage sustainable energy actions. We come back to this issue in the last video lecture. Strong biospheric values are a stable basis for durable, sustainable energy behaviours. However, people do not always act upon their biospheric values. This may happen when people do not recognise that a choice has implications for their biospheric values, for example, due to a lack of knowledge.

Skip to 4 minutes and 36 seconds Also in some cases, sustainable energy behaviour may have serious negative implications for other values that are also important to people. For example, when sustainable energy behaviour is very costly or inconvenient, people might prioritise such competing hedonic and egoistic values rather than acting upon their biospheric values. This implies that it is also important to consider contextual factors. You have learned about various relevant contextual factors in the previous module of this course, including legal, economic, technical, and spatial factors. Such contextual factors define the costs and benefits of different energy behaviours. On the one hand, contextual factors can facilitate sustainable energy behaviour and make such behaviour more attractive.

Skip to 5 minutes and 31 seconds For example, subsidies make solar panels more affordable and attractive and strict privacy regulations may reduce concerns about installing smart metres. On the other hand, contextual factors can inhibit sustainable energy behaviour by making them less attractive. For example, high costs of energy-saving investments or laws that inhibit people to buy energy produced by their neighbours may demotivate people to engage in these behaviours. As indicated earlier, in some cases, contextual factors can create strong barriers to sustainable energy behaviour, making their uptake unlikely even among people who strongly value the environment.

Factors and processes influencing (un)sustainable energy use

In this video, the factors and processes related to sustainable and unsustainable energy behaviour will be discussed. The factors and processes covered in this video include knowledge, motivation, values and contextual factors that could influence an individual’s energy behaviour.

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This video is from the free online course:

Solving the Energy Puzzle: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Energy Transition

University of Groningen