Energy Conscious Behaviour


This short analysis on what would drive sustainable behaviour includes a short revision of antecedents to energy-efficient/pro-environmental behavioural intentions and these intentions in an interplay with possible behavioural implications.

Sustainable Behaviour Economics

Despite there having been amendments of the framework, the classical Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) and Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) as developed by Azjen and Fishbein (1975; 1980) explain how we form behavioural intentions from (1) attitudes, (2) subjective norms, and (3) perceived behavioural control (originating from self-efficacy theory).  Although TPB was developed based on TRA, for the purpose of his paper, we are going stick with the TPB. Using the model of TPB has accounted for around 1/3 of variance in actual behaviour (Armitage & Conner, 2001). By 2006, Conner has added two more variables in predicting behavioural intentions that I believe are relevant for this short investigation: (4) Anticipated Regret and (5) Moral Climate. Adding Anticipated Regret has been supported by Sandberg and Conner (2008). Other studies have shown that Moral Intensity has a moderating effect on environmental decision making intentions of managers (Flannery & May, 1999). A more recent study has seen Moral Norms as explaining 39% and 41% in recycling intentions and actual recycling behaviour (Chan & Bishop, 2013).

Although global warming, to some extent, does or will harm our health, the support of predictive power of the TPB model towards health-related behavioural intentions (Armitage & Conner, 2001) is not enough. A study on charitable behavioural intentions, shows the use of the TPB with moral norms, attitudes, perceived behavioral control and past behaviour significantly explaining around 70% of variance in charitable intent (van der Linden, 2011); the reason I bring charitable intent forward is that despite the idea that global warming represents a threat, it is a probable future threat, because individuals tend to discount future (Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team, 2011), which may probably not affect most humans – currently living – in any direct way. Hence, one may (as well) regard it more as a charitable behaviour, given the adequate queues, for individuals to reciprocate onto sustainable behaviour.

We shall just recognise some of the above (underlined) antecedents.

So what hinders us from saving our planet and our future selves?

Gifford (2011) claims that structural barriers like climate-averse infrastructure are to be removed wherever possible, but he himself believes this to be not sufficient either. He expands and says that psychological barriers also “impede behavioural choices that would facilitate mitigation, adaptation, and environmental sustainability”. Furthermore, he identifies the following 7 psychological barriers:

  1. limited cognition about the problem,
  2. ideological worldviews that tend to preclude pro-environmental attitudes and behaviour,
  3. comparisons with key other people,
  4. lower costs and behavioral momentum,
  5. discredence toward experts and authorities,
  6. perceived risks of change, and
  7. positive but inadequate behavior change.

A report by the British government has seen the following three barriers to energy efficient or pro-environmental behaviour:

  1. discounting the future,
  2. social norms, and
  3. defaults.

The barrier between environmental concern and pro-environemnetal behaviour was also well summarised by Blake’s Value Action Gap  from 1999 [reproduced from Kolmuss and Agyeman (2002)]:


Sure, benefits of pro-environmental behaviour are accrued over a long period of time and the costs associated with such behaviour performed now, are considered large. Because people who prefer smaller rewards today rather than larger rewards in the future, are they not being selfish? The idea is that a small reward now will benefit oneself in form of immediate cost-savings or personal ‘feel-goods’ and whatever little effect it has towards the outside world in the long-term, than larger pro-environmental commitments ensuring a smoother future for our children and children’s children extending itself to outer personal spheres. Well the preference of committing to a large-scale effort now, so that one’s children have it easier, may also be considered a personal preference, and hence also, selfish; but I reckon, considerably less than the former. Its says on the webpage of the EU commission for environment: “Sustainable Development stands for meeting the needs of present generations without jeopardizing the ability of futures generations to meet their own needs…” (EC, 2015). Here you have it. But some of us being very rational individuals, especially when it comes to being more energy efficient, one tends to objectively weigh costs and benefits – in the short-term – of investing precious resources like time and money into something to make our homes and lives more ‘green’ (Jackson, 2007). On the one hand there is a need of behavioural change without a 3rd-party reward system, like a voluntary behaviour change method that is “a change that occurs when individuals make choices for personal reward without a top-down mechanism, regulation of any sort, or a feeling of external compulsion” (Ampt, 2003), on the other hand, for those receptive to authoritarian methods, 3rd-party/government-led, top-down regulated measures are needed. For either methods, social marketing can be powerful.

To view some powerful guerrilla, spoof, digital or print social marketing ads, visit my Pinterest Board for Social Marketing. Models and theories and their uses in regard to behavioural change can be found here.

Either way, the barriers seem to match with the antecedents to behavioural intentions. We have attitudes that reflect concern but not enough for behaviour; we have subjective norms (that are based on our beliefs) influenced by social norms that promote other ideological views; we have the lack of perceived behavioural control and self-efficacy about pro-evironmental behaviour, firstly because we perceive our actions are futile, and secondly because we don’t believe to have the ability or other resources to achieve difference; we have anticipated regret of too much resources used without visible benefits; we do have past behaviours that wouldn’t reflect a very energy efficient use questioning the impact of a change in behaviour now; we do however have a moral climate that would suggest pro-environmental behaviour. At the end of the day, it seems to come down to, how your were raised, with whom you spend your social time, and mainly, how much resources you have available. Assuming some of these conditions are a given, let’s look at some sustainable energy systems.

Sustainable Energy Systems

Sustainable energy sources are now a constant buzz in the global community. But what  are they exactly?

All of this started to flourish when we ‘put a hole’ in the ozone layer, and greenhouse gases started to affect our climate. Read more about this in my previous blog post about global warming. Soon the idea of not pushing the (natural and already elevated) greenhouse effect even more through human activity (such as burning fossil fuels or deforestation) became more integral to our survival on this planet. This is when we came up with alternative, sustainable and/or renewable energy sources and systems. Following are the most prevalent:

  1. Anaerobic digestion: chemical dissolution of biodegradable material by bacteria
  2. Biofuels: is fuel that is derived from biological or organic materials
  3. Biomass: biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms
  4. Geothermal power: steam from reservoirs below the Earth’s surface
  5. Hydroelectricity: hydropower/gravitational force of falling or flowing water
  6. Solar energy: radiant light and heat from the sun
  7. Tidal power: hydropower that converts the energy of tides
  8. Wave power: transport of energy by ocean surface waves
  9. Wind power: extracted from air flow using wind turbines

Heat energy from modern renewable energy sources (like heat pumps, solar water heating, etc.) accounted for an approximate 4.2% of total final energy use; hydropower made up about 3.8%, and an estimated 2% was provided by power from wind, other solar sources, geothermal, and biomass, as well as by biofuels (REN21, 2014). Most of these energy systems are being technologically enhance day-by-day as we move forward towards an all renewable energy future. But we have a long way to go. The majority of our energy worldwide is still produced in power stations that burn coal, oil, and natural gases (all fossil fuels by the way) and some even from nuclear. But it’s not all bad news. An staggering 19% of all energy produced in 2012 was from renewable energy sources (10% modern, and  9% from biomass) and a 138 countries have policies in favour of renewable energy systems in place (REN21, 2014). Then again 2011 was a good year for investments into sustainable energy systems. This interactive map shows the  IEA/IRENA renewable energy sourcing targets for 2020 by country.

As previously mentioned, the removal of climate-averse infrastructure (like power plants) is one thing, but pro-active incentivising of (government) initiatives, tax-reductions, classroom based recycling, etc., are another must to fulfil the increasing demand of people to be sustainable. In the UK, The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme attempts to encourage people to be ‘green’ in their homes with the installation of renewable heating systems (Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team, 2011). The government could also force architects/civil engineers to comply with building regulatory instructions to build more insulated walls and buildings to preserve/deflect temperatures based on season. There are ways to employ top-down approaches to get individuals and business to behave more pro-environmentally, but many are seen as traditional methods and are looked down upon . These days, the individual man or woman and businesses have a lot more power.

What about on an individual level? Ever thought of getting solar panels fitted bags with charging stations inside? What about the fairphone instead of an iPhone? Did you count how many times Apple has changed their equipment, chargers inlets and other features not compatible with the very next version? Do buy at least a hybrid vehicle if not an electrical one, if the infrastructure of your city/community allows it. What about installing LED bulbs instead of incandescent ones? The latter are about 10 times more carbon emitting.  Or you could use a smartphone application like Green Outlet to estimate energy costs at home or other apps to control your thermostats at home. Are you sharing your processing power with super computers that are using the idle power to compute large data in fighting AIDS, cancer and space exploration? It seems almost that human curiosity and the need to know what lies beyond (what we even can grasp), and what follows current technological development, is very eminent, almost to an extent it being unbearable. We probably know more about the vastness of the observable universe – observable being the word – than the vast depths of our oceans. Do you realise how much energy is going into the development of new things, instead of stilling global hunger, defeating extreme poverty, beating cancer once and for all, or tackling the climate crisis?

The next post discusses Portable Technologies and Sustainability.

Works Cited

Ampt, E. (2003). Sustainable Development through Voluntary Behaviour Change. Travel Behaviour Research. Adelaide. Retrieved from

Armitage, C. J., & Conner, M. (2001). Efficacy of the Theory of Planned Behaviour: A meta-analytic review. British Journal of Social Psychology, 40(4), 471–499.

Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team. (2011). Behaviour Change and Energy Use. London. Retrieved from

Chan, L., & Bishop, B. (2013). A moral basis for recycling: Extending the theory of planned behaviour. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 36, 96–102.

EC. (2015). Sustainable Development – Environment. Retrieved April 26, 2015, from

Flannery, B. L., & May, D. R. (1999). AN EMPIRICAL STUDY OF THE EFFECT OF MORAL INTENSITY ON ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICAL DECISION MAKING. Academy of Management Proceedings, 1999(1), B1–B6.

Gifford, R. (2011). The dragons of inaction: Psychological barriers that limit climate change mitigation and adaptation. American Psychologist, 66(4), 290–302.

Jackson, T. (2007). Motivating Sustainable Consumption: A Review of Evidence on Consumer Behaviour and Behavioural Change. London. Retrieved from

Kollmuss, A. and Agyeman, J. (2002). Mind the gap: why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behaviour? Environmental Education Research, 8(3): 239–60.

REN21. (2014). RENEWABLES 2014 GLOBAL STATUS REPORT. Paris. Retrieved from res.pdf

Sandberg, T., & Conner, M. (2008). Anticipated regret as an additionalpredictor in the theoryofplanned behaviour:A meta-analysis. British Journal of Social Psychology, 47(4), 589–606.

van der Linden, S. (2011). Charitable Intent: A Moral or Social Construct? A Revised Theory of Planned Behavior Model. Current Psychology, 30(4), 355–374.

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