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Words and actions matter in changing energy behaviour

Actions and words can sometimes be seen as mutually exclusive - but in energy and climate-related behaviour change, they’re both important.

A recent Yale study has shown that ‘global warming’ strikes more of a chord with people than ‘climate change’ – striking home more of a sense of human responsibility, as well as the seriousness of the issue. Despite the former being seen by the scientific community as less accurate, it also showed that is more likely to be used in conversation.

A previous move away from ‘global warming’ by the Republican party has since shifted back. Democrats have stuck with ‘climate change’ for the time being. Accuracy versus impact is an age-old trade-off in scientific communications and so is science and politics. It will be interesting to see where the semantics go, given the urgent need to take the public along with energy adaptations.

Metaphors are never far away in the field of behaviour change and elephants and their riders are the latest to gain traction. The idea is that the rider is our logical head, looking at long-term solutions; the elephant our more emotional, impulsive side.

So where energy saving is concerned, this means ways of appealing to both need to be constructed if we’re to keep on the path of sustainability. A Guardian Sustainable Business piece cites the example of a hospital, where switching off lights, turning off equipment and shutting doors has not only saved energy, but helped infection control, patient privacy and sleep. Care and energy efficiency combined, with everyone on the same path.

We’d also like to have control over our immediate surroundings in pursuit of greener goals, as architects Architype found out after monitoring its buildings:

We found that the more automated and complex the systems and controls, the more likely they are to go wrong and not work effectively.  Occupants need to both feel, and actually have, sufficient control of their own environment. They need to be helped and supported to understand how to best control their environment."

Having the right words and a constructive ethos is one thing, but construction and design needs to include humans and their idiosyncratic behaviour too.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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