Project Full Name

Energy Cultures pilot

CSAFE Theme System, futures, transformation, transdisciplinarity
Funding Body Otago University (UORG)
Total Contract Value ($ excl GST) $25,691
Contract Number
Start Date 1/1/2009
End Date
Principal Investigator/s
Rob Lawson
Subcontractors (and organisations)
Staff Involved
Janet Stephenson
Current Status Nearing completion

Brief Abstract:

We hypothesise that the energy-related behaviours of individuals and organisations are primarily habitual and non-deliberative, and are shaped by socially accepted norms – a complex interaction between their desires, values, beliefs, and energy-related artefacts (e.g. vehicles, appliances, insulation) – rather than by consciously determined needs. These ‘internal factors’ influence and are influenced by ‘external factors’ (regulations, market signals, resource trends etc). We suggest this cluster of interacting attributes causing habitual behaviours and responses can be viewed as ‘energy culture’.  The difficulty in motivating behavioural change results from the dominance of the ‘internal’ cultural attributes in the decision making of individuals and organisations. As a consequence, social groupings can be highly resistant to change even where there are good economic (or other) reasons to do so.  We explore this hypothesis, using the preliminary conjecture that (a) there are distinctive ‘energy subcultures’ within society, and that (b) for each subculture there is a characteristic set of cultural attributes which determine the range of behavioural choices that are perceived to be ‘appropriate’ (i.e. realistically possible) to people who align with that subculture. 

Research objectives:
(1) To examine two putative energy subcultures to determine whether or not

  • distinctive clusters of energy-related values, beliefs, artefacts, needs and wants exist
  • recognisable (and predictable) inter-relationships exist between these cultural attributes
  • people’s perceptions of appropriate energy behaviours are influenced by these cultural attributes
  • external factors (e.g. market signals, regulation) influence people’s perception of appropriate behaviours

(2) To engage with the literatures on culture, systems theory and complexity theory to investigate the applicability of the ‘energy culture’ concept, as the first step in developing a new and potentially fruitful approach to understanding the drivers of energy-related behaviours better, and, ultimately, to identify opportunities for new interventions with predictable outcomes.

(Not funded through CSAFE)


Project Full Name

Energy Cultures

CSAFE Theme Governance, community and self identities, systems, futures, transformations
Funding Body FRST
Total Contract Value ($ excl GST) $523524
Contract Number UOOX0905
Start Date 10/1/2009
End Date
Principal Investigator/s
Janet Stephenson (CSAFE), Rob Lawson (Marketing)
Subcontractors (and organisations) Barry Barton (Waikato Uni)
Gerry Carrington
Staff Involved
Janet Stephenson, Miranda Mirosa
Current Status First field research currently occurring.

Brief Abstract:

The ‘Energy Cultures' research programme applies a novel combination of complementary social science methods to improve understanding of the drivers of household energy behaviours, and to deliver an effective strategy to achieve more energy-efficient behaviours.
The aims are to:

  • Develop an integrated understanding of the values-to-behaviour chain in household space heating and water heating
  • Identify whether clusters of ‘energy cultures' exist, and their characteristics
  • Develop recommendations on effective intervention strategies to improve uptake of energy-efficient technologies and behaviours
  • Test effectiveness of recommended interventions via pilot study with an end user.
  • The proposed research adopts the concept of ‘culture' as a well-established way of making sense of the complex relationship between social/economic/policy settings and everyday practices. We hypothesise that within NZ there are clusters of households with identifiably different sets of attitudes and behaviours relating to energy use (i.e. ‘energy cultures'). We suggest that the lack of success with achieving government energy efficiency targets is that cultural groups respond differently to behaviour change interventions (e.g. education, incentives, social marketing, policies). Identifying the characteristics of, and influences on, different energy cultures will help to develop more effective interventions.

Our hypothesis is that barriers to adoption depend on complex interactions amongst an array of factors, which create behavioural clusters or ‘cultures' of energy use that respond differently to behaviour change initiatives. Most international and NZ research to date examines only a single factor or narrow range of factors influencing behaviour, creating a fragmented understanding, which we suggest is a major reason why interventions to date are have had limited success. To identify promising interventions we will examine the complex drivers of household energy decision-making, using complementary social science methods to provide a deeper and more integrated understanding, and to reveal critical barriers and pathways to behaviour change.