How Behaviour Science Can Help Solve Our Global Energy Crisis

It’s no secret that Australia, and indeed the world, is undergoing an energy crisis like never before. Our state and federal governments continue to make the argument that coal is the way to go, even as the threat of blackouts looms over us every summer. Despite this, a recent report has seen Australian chief scientist Alan Finkel reminded us that the Australian energy crisis could be seeing a resolution in as little as three years – but that coal use is not the answer, no matter how much our politicians seem to think it is.

Behavioural science for solving enery crisis

And while it’s a common thought that there’s not much you as an individual can do to change the face of the globe, the fact with energy is that it’s exactly the actions of everyday people and companies who are making a difference. Companies like Ikea, Google and Amazon are embracing technology like battery storage and clean energy, while mums and dads who are concerned about the future of their world are taking more responsibility for going green. This shift in behaviour did not happen overnight.

In order to keep our behaviour change and eco-friendly momentum up, while continuing to work towards a cleaner, greener planet, we must look to behavioural science for help.

Behavioural science explained

When it comes to shifting a behaviour, there are a few things that can have an impact. Bandura’s theory of Social Cognition suggests that people aren’t motivated by inner forces, they’re actually pushed to act by external factors. This was evident in a recent reveal by Opower which demonstrated just that. While we all know that we should use less power, the thing that motivated the people in the study to cut down wasn’t the looming threat of global warming–but keeping pace with the neighbours.

How this research has made an impact

Simply by demonstrating how social norms can play a huge role in shifting behaviour on environmental issues, the consequence for our global energy crisis is significant. The research that has been performed by Opower is largely simple in its application, and looks to human behaviour as an innovative way to make a change in a truly meaningful way.

So, how you can use behaviour change for your message? Below, we discuss a couple of key behavioural science theories, including Zanna and Rempel’s theory in attitude shifting and the Transtheoretical behavioural change models, and see how these can be utilised to impact on your users.

Zanna and Rempel’s Theory

When looking to change or modify a behaviour, it’s vital that your message is consistent. When a message is clear and on-point every single time, it makes it a whole lot easier for your users to begin formulating an idea about an object or concept.

Another integral element of Zanna and Rempel’s theory for behaviour change is to prime the user to receive the message that you are sending out. When you prime a user, you are sending out situational factors where you ready a user to be more receptive to a message. An example of priming might be to ask a user about a related issue about which you know the user to have a favourable position. That way, when they are asked your actual question, they are already primed to think favourably.

It’s important to note here that attitude change doesn’t necessarily equal a change in the behaviour. Indeed, while behaviour acts as a mediator in attitude-behaviour relationships, you must stress the benefits of performing the behaviour, the social appropriateness of performing the behaviour and the impact of the behaviour.

In the case of the global energy crisis, the study by Opower demonstrated that members of a group respond to appropriate or inappropriate values, beliefs and behaviours held by other members of the group. In changing energy consumption behaviour, it was as simple as showing people that their neighbour (via door hanger, no less – there wasn’t even any face to faced interaction) was undertaking energy savings to reduce their energy consumption.

Transtheoretical model

Another example of a behavioural change model which can be implemented to good effect is the Transtheoretical Model. This model suggests that change is a process over six steps which requires your to sculpt your messaging to meet these levels.

There’s the precontemplation stage, and the contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination stages. When looking to make a change for the world of your users, it’s important that you are matching your messaging to these stages. As an example, if a user is in the precontemplation stage, you need to make sure you’re raising awareness of a behaviour so that they can move to the next stage, contemplation.

If you don’t plan adequately, users will get stuck in the early stages and never progress.


With a key focus on behavioural science, we can present more powerful and compelling models for behaviour change and attitude shift. Behaviour change is a priority for many businesses, and whatever your goal, it is vital that you have an understanding of how individual users adopt an attitude.

By looking to existing theories of behaviour change and applying these to our methods, it’s possible to see exciting shifts taking place. When applying behaviour change to something as globally significant as the energy crisis or making a shift in the decisions of a small cohort, the theory remains the same.


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