My finances, my projects, my life
July 18, 2024

Energy: understanding the barriers to change in business

Faced with the need to raise awareness about climate issues and soaring energy bills, many companies have set out to define energy saving policies. Unfortunately, good intentions on paper and actual daily results do not always tally.Many barriers need to be identified and steps taken to bring about a wholesale shift in employee habits. Here’s everything you need to know.

What to remember

    • Reducing a company’s energy consumption and environmental footprint is more complex than it seems.
    • There is a gap between intentions and actions, which often explains the disappointing results obtained when it comes to reducing energy consumption.
    • Knowing how to identify the attitudes and behaviours behind this gap is essential to removing the barriers to your energy policy being adopted.
    • Successful behavioural change can only occur if it happens with employees and not against them. Three factors need to be considered: having the capability, providing the opportunity and creating the motivation for change.

Reducing energy consumption in the workplace is not always as simple as thinking about turning off your computer and monitors when you leave work. As a result, an energy saving policy is needed for all employees. Unfortunately, writing an exhaustive document or sending out a beautiful presentation extolling the virtues of more responsible behaviour does not systematically translate into action.

Sizing up the challenge

Reducing a company’s energy consumption and environmental footprint is more complex than it seems. The project’s success depends on many variables and requires the support of all members of staff. It would be entirely optimistic to think that the merits and urgency of the cause alone would be enough to change behaviour. Of course, we all want to help save the planet, but that does not necessarily mean we are prepared to change our habits. This is where the gap between intentions (values) and actions comes in.

The gap between intentions and actions results from the interference of behavioural biases that prevent our values, attitudes or intentions from being translated into actions.

This gap between intentions and actions results from the interference of behavioural biases that prevent our values, attitudes or intentions from being translated into actions. Typically, these will be behavioural biases that lead us to prefer instant gratification. For example, you may be aware of the benefits of lowering the temperature in your office without actually wanting to do so because you are cold; after all, it’s more comfortable to turn up the thermostat than to add more layers.

The existence of the gap between intention and action becomes even more complex when we find ourselves in a collective environment such as a workplace setting. In a professional context, employees:

    • do not directly bear the cost of the energy they use at work;
    • question the impact of their individual actions since they share the space and equipment with many colleagues;
    • are influenced by group dynamics;
    • must pursue targets that sometimes conflict with their desire to reduce energy (e.g. adopting more responsible behaviour versus cutting delivery times);
    • may have a relationship with their job that means they do not feel at all concerned by the policy that the company wishes to adopt.

In this context, knowing how to recognise collective attitudes and dynamics is an essential part of identifying and removing the barriers to the company’s energy policy being adopted.

Better understanding employees’ attitudes

As an employer, it would be counter-productive, guilt-creating, and even discriminatory, to try to identify the individuals or socio-demographic groups behind the failure of your energy saving policy. This is all the more true since certain clichés are unfounded, such as the idea that employees who have been in post for a long time would feel less concerned by energy reduction than new recruits. The studies available to date have not revealed any key factors in this regard.

On the other hand, the researchers Zierler, Wehrmeyer and Murphy have successfully identified “problematic” individuals who can be grouped together on a behavioural basis. Here are, in broad terms, the profiles of these behavioural groups that you will certainly encounter when putting in place your new energy policy.

    • Techno-sceptics are particularly difficult to get on board with your energy policy. Individuals in this group neither feel able nor willing to save energy and they do not see how participating would be in their interest.
    • People aware of energy issues. The individuals in this group are the most aware of energy efficiency campaigns and those who think that energy saving actions are easily implemented. Note, however, that this does not necessarily mean that they intend to take action at work.
    • Idealists. The individuals in this group genuinely intend to save energy and could actively support energy efficiency measures. They idealise the cause so much that they can actually be held back by the feeling that the measures proposed are too light and that their impact will be too minimal to justify personally making an effort.
    • The “sensitive to organisational barriers” group. The people in this group would find it easy to apply energy saving measures on an individual level, but do not intend to do so on an organisational level. Individuals in this group may indeed perceive value conflicts between the objectives sought by the company and their own interests.
    • Sceptics. This group has the capacity to implement your energy policy, but is not necessarily prepared to do so because it is not sure that these measures are really in the interests of the company. They may recognise the benefits of these measures, but believe that other more fundamental interests justify not applying them.

These different behavioural types create a complex overall dynamic that largely explains the resistance to change. Being able to identify these groups and, for each one, the precise causes of the gap between intentions and actions can already help to understand any sticking points.

Success is only possible if we work with the people whose behaviour we want to change and not against them.

From there, it becomes possible to connect with your employees to remove behavioural barriers together before even thinking about imposing concrete initiatives to reduce energy consumption. After all, success is only possible if we work with the people whose behaviour we want to change and not against them. This happens in three stages.

The three stages to approaching change: capability, opportunity and motivation

Did you know that it takes about three weeks for a person to incorporate a change in their behaviour?Getting the support of your employees requires patience. For lasting behavioural change, a multi-step approach is required using a precise model, which has become a reference. Developed by researchers Michie and colleagues, this model highlights three things to consider when bringing about behaviour change: having the capability to change behaviour, providing employees with the opportunity to change and creating the motivation for change.

    • Capability is having the physical skills, knowledge and information about how to adopt the behaviour, such as how to recycle correctly or how to turn off equipment.
    • Opportunity means having the right resources (time, money, space) to be able to change. This also includes the social dimension, meaning being surrounded by the right people in order to be able to change.
    • Motivation is more about wanting to adopt the behaviour at the right time rather than sticking to old habits. For example, being more motivated to put on a sweater and turn down the heating rather than doing nothing.

These three steps are key to success when it comes to reducing and eliminating the gap between the stated intentions and the actions actually taken. For employers, this is where their role as a facilitator of behaviour change comes into play. Use this framework to analyse, at each stage, the barriers to the adoption of your energy policy at the company. Remember that change can only happen when you work with your employees and not against them. It is a collective behavioural game that you must learn to play before even considering implementing concrete actions to achieve energy savings.

Now that you understand the theory, you are probably eager to identify more ways you can remove barriers to change. To do so, read the article “Energy: removing the barriers to change in business”.