How do we really encourage behaviour change?

Supporting Sustainability Projects

How do we really encourage behaviour change?

bh change

A huge part of what we do through our sustainability work is get students into positive energy saving habits, putting our education system at the heart of an energy-efficient society.

But we can always be more effective, more targeted, and more impactful. And that’s exactly what new work at the University of Bristol Students’ Union is doing.  

We’ve built a new Energy Dashboard, which gives easily viewable comparisons between different halls of residence to a new level of accuracy. This has helped the University of Bristol Students’ Union to tailor their energy saving campaigns to make them as effective as possible, by evaluating what sort of interventions give greater savings than others.

Amy Walsh of the University of Bristol Students’ Union led a range of separate interventions across different halls of residence. In one, they tried a social media competition. In another, they employed awareness raising through door knocking. In a third, they held a party with games, food and music.

Each of the three interventions also included a control section which didn’t receive the intervention, so we knew for sure that the savings measured were because of the campaign, and not something else.

The hall which saved the most energy – an incredible 16 per cent – was 33 Colston Street, which is where games, food and music were used to promote the campaign.

One way of looking at these results is to conclude that peer to peer influence – in a social, face to face context – could be the most effective way to shift attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. The interventions which introduced competition and lacked sociability were less effective.

Does this mean that we can most effectively encourage energy saving while strengthening the social fabric of campus life? Can we do more through collaboration than we can through competition?

In the future, we’ll be developing our Energy Dashboard to explore questions like this, and further strengthen the impact of our energy saving campaigns. Soon, we’ll have real time data flowing into the dashboard from SMART meters, giving automatic, to-the-second energy readings from halls, helping us be even sharper in our campaigns.

Because in the end, cutting down on energy isn’t just about turning the lights off. It’s about shaping people’s values and attitudes to guide their actions across an entire lifestyle. The University of Bristol Students’ Union’s work on behaviour change in halls really gets to the heart of dealing with this fascinating and complex issue.

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