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Not irrational but habitual: The importance of "behavioural lock-in" in energy consumption

  • Maréchal, Kevin

A substantial body of literature has shown that our behaviour is often guided by habits. The existence of habits -- not fully conscious forms of behaviour -- is important as it contradicts rational choice theory. Their presence thus calls for the setting of new instruments as they make it unlikely that consumers be capable of exercising control over their energy consumption in reaction to given incentives. This is further increased in the evolutionary perspective where the current carbon-based Socio-Technical System constrains and shapes consumers' choices through structural forces. Habits being potentially "counterintentional," they may explain the "efficiency paradox" in energy as well as the continued increase of energy consumption despite the rising environmental awareness among the population. Policies aiming at reducing energy consumption should thus specifically address the performance context of habits. For instance, targeting new residents has proven to be more effective given that their preceding habits have been disturbed. The results of our empirical analysis confirm this idea by showing how a change of context makes people more receptive to a proposed measure. Our analysis of the role played by habits also suggests that individuals do not consider the need to change existing habits as an obstacle even though this is contradicted implicitly in the answers they provided to open questions. This "unconsciousness" is one of the most delicate features of habits and it should thus be accounted for when designing measures. Given the other characteristics of habits, the joint use of feedbacks and commitment strategies appears promising.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Ecological Economics.

Volume (Year): 69 (2010)
Issue (Month): 5 (March)
Pages: 1104-1114

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Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:69:y:2010:i:5:p:1104-1114
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/ecolecon

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  1. Faiers, Adam & Cook, Matt & Neame, Charles, 2007. "Towards a contemporary approach for understanding consumer behaviour in the context of domestic energy use," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(8), pages 4381-4390, August.
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