Energy behaviours of people occupying non-domestic buildings

A ’Rapid Evidence Assessment’ on which to base policy

Project duration: May 2012 to November 2012

Around 18% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from non-domestic buildings (offices, shops, manufacturing premises, schools etc) and a further 22% from industrial processes within these buildings.

For the UK to meet its target to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, significant reductions in these totals need to be found. This is likely to require a raft of policies and interventions by government, all of which need to be underpinned by an understanding of the way organisations – and the people within them – make decisions about energy use.

This is relatively new territory for governments, and to understand more about energy efficiency behaviours in non domestic settings the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) commissioned CSE, in partnership with the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, to undertake an overview of existing evidence-based research.

Click here to download the report 'What are the factors influencing energy behaviours and decision-making in the non-domestic sector? A Rapid Evidence Assessment'

CSE's Nick Banks led the team.

"Our first task was to select the material that would make up the evidence base from which the report’s findings would be drawn. We started off with a pool of over 6,000 journal articles, 600 conference papers and around 30 studies for national governments and the EU. By progressively narrowing this down using appropriate exclusion and quality criteria we finally reached a managable 56 studies for further detailed analysis.

"This is known in the reseach world as a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) and ensures that this kind of desk study is both timely and systematic."

These 56 studies were inevitably very unevenly distributed with some sectors and particular types of behaviour being much better researched than others. In order to draw common understandings from the diverse range of literature in the evidence base and also deliver some 'explanatory power', a conceptual framework or was developed to provide an outline theory of organisational behaviour and behaviour change that integrated insights from organisational theory, sociology and economics.

Combining the research base and the conceptual framework has allowed at least partial answers to be provided to all the research questions, and three key messages emerge.

1) decisions are social
The first of these is that decisions that organisations make around energy are 'social'  – i.e. they are made by individuals acting within, and influenced by, a social context, and not necessarily based on rational criteria such as cost/benefit. It follows, therefore, that policy-making in this area needs to take into account the social context that underpins decisions that organisations take around energy, and not assume that cost and simply providing more information is the defining driver.

2) size, and sector, matter
The second key finding is that the size of the organisation, and the sector it operates in, goes some distance to determining what energy efficiency behaviours it exhibits (see * below).

"This is particularly useful because it tells us we can segment this huge and diverse group of 'non-domestic' emitters which could range from a steel foundery to the corner shop and target policy at particular segments," said Nick.

"Some interesting patterns emerge. One is that big companies have the resources to throw at energy efficiency and can act strategically. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the big players in the energy sector were quite switched on in this respect - perhaps using energy efficient offices to 'off-set' the negative reputation that their oil-drilling or coal burning operations engendered in the minds of the public."

Conversely, many smaller companies do not approach energy efficiency strategically.

"This is in part because they are too busy doing the core stuff and can't spare the resources" said Nick. "But there is a tendancy among smaller firms to consider it the responsibility of the 'big boys' to follow and support goverment policy, and not theirs."

3) energy is invisible
The third, and perhaps most interesting finding is that energy use is oddly invisible - even when companies have hefty, multi-million pound energy bills. This is less the case for public-facing companies like department stores and supermarkets which like to tell their customer base about their energy-saving efforts - Marks & Spencer is a good example - and more the case for anonymous manufacturers and service industries.

"What we saw across many studies is that energy efficiency is relegated to the status of 'maintenance' – lumped in with cleaning and building repairs and other unglamourous aspects of facilities management and is therefore categorised as a cost on the annual balance sheet. Investments in maintenance are often expected to 'pay back' in two years - an absurdly short term for energy efficiency measures, and an expected rate of return that is not generally applied to other types of investment.

"If we could persuade senior managers to see improvements in energy efficiency as akin to investments like building new plants or developing new products – i.e. as creating an asset – then the pay-back period could be more realistic and the status of energy efficiency measures would rise. and to do this, we need to remove the invisbility cloak by reporting on it, making it public, making it strategic."

* The four energy efficiency behaviours considered were i) investment; ii) the actions of the occupant of buildings; iii) the adoption of specific and appropriate strategies; and iv) the innovation of energy efficient products and/or procedures

Project team
This project was undertaken by CSE in partnership with the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford (ECI). Dr Nick Banks of CSE managed the project and co-authored CSE’s contribution with Zoe Redgrove. Other CSE staff working on the project were: Madeline Gunn, James Mullen and James Ryle. Dr Tina Fawcett delivered ECI’s work with assistance from Ljilja Ristic and Sue Bird, University of Oxford librarians. At DECC, the project was led by Caryl Williams with the support of Nita Bhupal. We are indebted to their invaluable contributions, those of the steering group, the reviewers of the conceptual model and the peer reviewers who gave constructive criticism of the final draft.

The views expressed in the report, which may not be made publically available, and in this article are not necessarily those of DECC.

Click here to download the report 'What are the factors influencing energy behaviours and decision-making in the non-domestic sector? A Rapid Evidence Assessment'

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