IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

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

Listed author(s):
  • Zack Brown


  • Nick Johnstone


  • Ivan Haščič


  • Laura Vong


  • Francis Barascud


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.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

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

in new window

Date of creation: 05 Dec 2012
Handle: RePEc:oec:envaaa:51-en
Contact details of provider: Postal:
2 rue Andre Pascal, 75775 Paris Cedex 16

Phone: 33-(0)-1-45 24 82 00
Fax: 33-(0)-1-45 24 85 00
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

in new window

  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.
  2. Cass R. Sunstein & Richard H. Thaler, 2003. "Libertarian paternalism is not an oxymoron," Conference Series ; [Proceedings], Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, vol. 48(Jun).
  3. Löfgren, Åsa & Martinsson, Peter & Hennlock, Magnus & Sterner, Thomas, 2012. "Are experienced people affected by a pre-set default option—Results from a field experiment," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 63(1), pages 66-72.
  4. Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein, 2003. "Libertarian Paternalism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 175-179, May.
  5. Jeffrey M Wooldridge, 2010. "Econometric Analysis of Cross Section and Panel Data," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 2, volume 1, number 0262232588, July.
  6. Daniel Kahneman, 2003. "Maps of Bounded Rationality: Psychology for Behavioral Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(5), pages 1449-1475, December.
  7. Keith M. Marzilli Ericson & Andreas Fuster, 2011. "Expectations as Endowments: Evidence on Reference-Dependent Preferences from Exchange and Valuation Experiments," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(4), pages 1879-1907.
  8. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
  9. Nava Ashraf & Dean Karlan & Wesley Yin, 2006. "Tying Odysseus to the Mast: Evidence From a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 635-672.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oec:envaaa:51-en. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.