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Increasing Energy Efficiency Behaviors among Adolescents

We propose a randomized controlled trial to test the efficacy of a theory-driven, school-based intervention to increase energy efficiency behaviors among high school students. Students in a local public high school will be randomized to receive a five-week classroom-based behavioral intervention or to serve as an untreated control group. The intervention has been developed over the past year through formative research, including piloting with representative youth. Week 1 centers on increasing motivation for behavior change, Weeks 2-4 apply behavioral methods to promote change on the selected target behaviors, and Week 5 reinforces the previous weeks with an advocacy activity. Energy efficiency behaviors will be assessed in both groups by self-report at baseline and after the completion of the intervention. We hypothesize that students in the intervention classrooms will significantly improve their total energy efficiency behaviors compared to controls. We will also evaluate potential demographic, socio-cultural and psychological moderators and mediators of intervention effects on energy efficiency behaviors to examine potential mechanisms of change, evaluate intervention delivery variables and their relationships to outcomes, evaluate correlates and risk factors, and identify the most appropriate target audiences for dissemination and future studies.

In the United States, the residential sector accounts for about 30% of non-transportation energy use (Energy Information Administration, 2008). Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions follow a similar pattern. Furthermore, energy efficiency changes in the residential sector can be achieved for low or even negative cost, making them especially appealing. Many advocacy groups, NGO's, foundations, government agencies and public utilities have identified changing energy efficiency behaviors as a high priority. However, despite the appeal and potential impact of energy efficiency behavior change to help address climate change and energy security, little work has been done to develop and evaluate theory-driven approaches. The proposed study will help develop a school-based model for this effort. We will apply the available theoretical frameworks for behavior change and the lessons learned from public health interventions to test the efficacy of this approach in changing energy use/energy efficiency behaviors. This study could start to establish school-based interventions as one potentially effective model to produce population-wide changes in behavior.

We choose to target adolescents in schools for both conceptual and practical reasons. First, we believe that adolescents are already more motivated than adults to make energy efficiency behavior changes, possibly because they believe they will be impacted greater personally by climate change and energy security problems. Second, adolescence is a life stage when individuals are starting to establish their own identities and to control most of their own behaviors, and establishing energy efficiency behaviors at an early age will make a greater impact over a lifetime. Third, schools are a particularly suitable setting for the community-based intervention approach. New attitudes, norms and behaviors can rapidly diffuse through a school community. Fourth, teens are likely to be early adopters of behaviors to reduce their energy use. This makes them an appropriate for triggering broader diffusion of these behaviors throughout their current communities (e.g., families, peer groups, community organizations) and their future communities (e.g., colleges, workplaces). We believe that one of the most effective ways to influence a large number of households is through the children living in those households. Fifth, once demonstrated to be effective, a school-based intervention can be rapidly disseminated to many other schools, magnifying its potential effects across the population. As a result, an effective school-based intervention to increase energy efficiency behaviors could be implemented more broadly in the near term in support of the AB 32 greenhouse gas reduction goals in California.

Final Report: Increasing Energy Efficiency Behaviors Among Adolescents(46KB PDF)
Thomas N. Robinson

Project Proposal: Increasing Energy Efficiency Behaviors among Adolescents (0.1MB PDF)
Thomas N. Robinson, K. Carrie Armel, Marilyn Cornelius