WASHINGTON — While efforts to address U.S. energy needs often focus on developing non-carbon power sources and new “green” modes of transportation, U.S. Rep. Brian Baird told an audience that changing consumer behavior could reduce energy consumption by as much as 20 percent — in a matter of months.
In fact, Baird said changing consumer behavior is “the single most immediate thing we can do” to reduce energy consumption.
Baird, an advocate for science in the Congress, is a former chairman of the psychology department at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash.
He is a believer in the power of social and behavioral sciences to help address urgent national issues, including reduction of consumer demand for energy.
The steps are no secret: carpooling, driving one less day a week, turning down thermostats, buying more efficient appliances. But how can consumers be motivated?
“Social sciences,” Baird said.
He cited the work of Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University and others who have been studying the science of persuasion. Nearly 600 leaders from U.S. and foreign governments, businesses, research centers and universities attended the opening day of the 34th annual Advancing Science, Serving Society Policy Forum.
Meeting just blocks from the White House, the forum is regarded as the largest and most important annual science and technology policy conference in the United States, focusing on federal budget and R&D issues; public- and private-sector research; education; innovation; and other high-profile domestic and international S&T issues.
Baird surveyed some of the items on the science and technology committee’s plate in the current Congress, including energy issues. He said he would like to see recognition in energy legislation for behavioral changes that lead directly to reduced consumption.
If companies can get tax credits and utility rebates for installing energy-efficient light bulbs and other equipment, Baird said, “why not give credit for changing the way power bills are distributed to people?”
Studies suggest that simply by changing the way power bills are worded — so that consumers are informed how their usage compares to that of their neighbors — power consumption can be cut by 2 percent or more.