Saving power to conserve your reputation? The effectiveness of private versus public information

M. Delmas, N. Lessem

Environmental damage is often an unseen byproduct of other activities. Disclosing environmental impact privately to consumers can reduce the costs and/or increase the moral benefits of conservation behaviors, while publicly disclosing such information can provide an additional motivation for conservation – cultivating a green reputation. In a unique field experiment in the residence halls at the University of California – Los Angeles, we test the efficacy of detailed private and public information on electricity conservation. Private information was given through real-time appliance level feedback and social norms over usage, and public information was given through a publicly visible conservation rating. Our analysis is based on 7,120 daily observations about energy use from heating and cooling, lights and plug load for 66 rooms collected over an academic year. Our results suggest that while private information alone was ineffective, public information combined with private information motivated a 20 percent reduction in electricity consumption achieved through lower use of heating and cooling. Public information was particularly effective for above median energy users.

Published Work | 2014 | Journal of Environmental Economics and Management

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