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Testing the Effect of Defaults on the Thermostat Settings of OECD Employees

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  • Zack Brown
  • Nick Johnstone
  • Ivan Haščič
  • Laura Vong
  • Francis Barascud

Abstract

Default options have been shown to affect behaviour in a variety of economic choice tasks, including health care and retirement savings. Less research has tested whether defaults affect behaviour in the domain of energy efficiency. This study uses data from a randomized controlled experiment in which the default settings on office thermostats in an OECD office building were manipulated during the winter heating season, and employees’ chosen thermostat setting observed over a 6 week period. Using difference-in-differences, panel, and censored regression models (to control for maximum allowable thermostat settings), we find that a 1°C decrease in the default caused a reduction in the chosen setting by 0.38°C on average. Sixty-five percent of this effect could be attributed to office occupant behaviour (p-value=0.044). The difference-in-differences model shows that small decreases in the default (1°) led to a greater reduction in chosen settings than large decreases (2°). We also find that office occupants who are more apt to adjust their thermostats prior to the intervention were less susceptible to the default. We find no evidence that offices with multiple occupants displayed different patterns in thermostat choices than single-occupant offices. We conclude that this kind of intervention can increase building-level energy efficiency, and discuss potential explanations and broader policy implications of our findings. Il a été démontré que les options par défaut influaient sur le comportement dans diverses situations de choix économique, portant par exemple sur le système de santé ou le régime de retraite. Cependant, l’incidence des options par défaut sur le comportement dans le domaine de l’efficacité énergétique a fait l’objet de travaux de recherche moins nombreux. Pour cette étude, des données ont été recueillies dans le cadre d’une expérience aléatoire contrôlée ayant consisté à manipuler le réglage par défaut des thermostats installés dans les bureaux d’un bâtiment de l'OCDE pendant la période de chauffage hivernale, et à observer le réglage choisi par les salariés sur une période de 6 semaines. Des modèles fondés sur la méthode des « différences de différences », des données de panel et une analyse de régression censurée (prenant en compte les réglages thermostatiques maximum admissibles) permettent de constater qu’une baisse de la température par défaut de 1°C se traduit par une réduction de 0.38°C en moyenne de la température choisie. Soixante-cinq pour cent de cet effet pourrait être attribué au comportement de l’occupant du bureau (valeur-p=0.044). Le modèle de « différences de différences » montre qu’une légère baisse de la température par défaut (1°) entraîne une plus forte réduction de la température choisie qu’une baisse importante (2°). Nous constatons aussi que les occupants des bureaux les plus enclins à ajuster leur thermostat avant l’intervention ont été moins sensibles au réglage par défaut. Nous ne trouvons pas de différence quant aux choix de température entre les bureaux occupés par plusieurs personnes et les bureaux individuels. Nous concluons que ce type d’intervention peut accroître l’efficacité énergétique au niveau des bâtiments, et examinons les explications possibles et les enseignements plus généraux qui peuvent être tirés de nos résultats pour l’élaboration des politiques publiques.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by OECD Publishing in its series OECD Environment Working Papers with number 51.

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Date of creation: 05 Dec 2012
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Handle: RePEc:oec:envaaa:51-en

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Keywords: energy efficiency; field experiments; behavioural economics;

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  1. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2002. "Defined Contribution Pensions: Plan Rules, Participant Choices, and the Path of Least Resistance," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 16, pages 67-114 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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