Behavioural analyzes within sustainability

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It is very likely that, in the near future, cars, high-tech appliances, homes and many other products and systems will be more energy efficient. As a result, it might seem compelling to expect a decrease in carbon intensity in these areas. Unfortunately, this utopian view does not include the offsetting issue of the rebound effect - a phenomenon feared by economists and climate scientists in general.

The rebound effect, also known as “Jevons paradox”, underlines the fact that every time an innovation allows us to consume less energy or material, we might tend to increase our consumption.

For instance, the price drop of low-energy LED lamps and their generalization leads to less vigilance in terms of use, which offsets or even overrides the potential energy savings that the product was originally designed for. The rebound effect can also be observed in a more indirect manner, with regards to the way the energy, money or time saved is used afterwards: if a technology enables one to half his car’s fuel consumption, it might, on the other hand, encourage him to buy a second car and/or use his vehicles more extensively.

This underlines the crucial importance that our day-to-day decisions can have on our actions, and thus, on the environment. In fact, when it comes to lowering our ecological footprint for the sake of sustainability, the focus should first be on the energy-consumer, and then on the issue of energy efficiency.

To favour a more behavioural approach to this ecological topic, the concept of “nudging” – a gentle incentive to an individual or consumer to change their behaviour – can easily be integrated. Indeed, establishing “green nudges”, such as providing people with a clear and instantaneous preview of their energy consumption, could be a powerful tool to support efficiency-oriented innovations and promote a more sustainable way of living.