Frank Zaski is a retired auto executive who has made something of a name for himself by pursuing a campaign to get shopping mall owners to turn down the heat. He put together some interesting thoughts on how to get people to use energy more wisely:

I was thinking about The 5% solution and commitment and wanted to forward a piece I wrote and circulated to environmental groups. Best of luck! frank

I was looking at some psychological research and found a few ideas to consider when environmental groups ask people to make a commitment.

Al Gore recently asked people to make a “Live Earth Pledge” to help improve our environment.

Other environmental groups often ask for similar commitments.

Research suggests a “private” commitment is not effective, but by going “public,” the commitment can result in real change, become a habit and even help change a person’s self concept. (“Private” commitment is without any public record, follow-up or recognition.)

The Study

In 1973, Pallak, Cook and Sullivan initiated a program in Iowa City to encourage people to minimize their consumption of natural gas and electricity by requesting that they make a public commitment to do so.

Residents received a home visit and were told that the results of the study would be publicized in the newspaper along with the names of other participants as public-spirited, fuel conserving citizens.

A second group of participants received the standard visits and were asked to make a verbal commitment, but were assured of anonymity. A third (control) group did not receive the in-home visit, nor were they asked to make a commitment.

Study results

Participants who made a public commitment reduced their natural gas and electricity consumption by between 10 percent and 20 percent.

There was no significant change in energy consumption for the groups which made a private commitment or no commitment at all.

Participants who made a public commitment continued to consume less electricity and natural gas, even though they had been told that the study had concluded after one month, and that their names would not be publicized.

At this point, they already saw themselves as fully concerned, energy-conscious citizens. See pages 100-103 of Influence by R. B. Cialdini and http://www.toolsofchange.com/English/FirstSplit.asp

Implications (my thoughts):

1. Rather than ask people to make a “private” pledge and leave it at that, ask people to make a “public” pledge by posting their names and commitment on a website.

2. Also, provide a way for people to exhibit their commitment publicly on their own — for example, a sticker or ribbon for their house and/or car. (A bumper sticker could read “I am an energy-conscious citizen.”)

3. Make the initial pledge specific and readily actionable.

4. Ask participants to specify the date they will start fulfilling the commitment.

5. Provide a follow-up program which reminds people of their commitment and provides fulfillment tips, success stories, etc.

6. It takes two to four weeks to form a new habit — it is important for participants to receive a reminder, tips and encouragement during this time.

7. Provide additional web space for recommitment (renew their vows!), bringing in new people, report their achievements, raising their eco efforts to a new level, etc.

8. At a later date, and after the eco habit is formed, research suggests you can ask for an even greater level of commitment.

9. Provide achievement levels to strive for – perhaps similar to Olympic medals – bronze, silver and gold.

Comment

Additional investment, computer programming, web space and follow-up are required to implement the above. But the additional level of achievement, habit forming and self concept may well be worth it.

Resources

Tools of change is an excellent site to find more useful studies, insights and techniques to make environmental efforts more productive. Also see, Robert B. Cialdini’s book Influence.

Take care, frank