One of the key things, that may be obvious to program managers in the field, is that this research takes place at a time, and following a period, of great change that has influenced how people consume and produce energy across a range of sectors, including energy consumption and production, water use, transport and waste production.
For example, household energy consumption has declined steadily since 2006, with an increase in the rate of decline since 2009, following steady year on year growth up to that point. At the same time, growth in rooftop solar has exploded, to the point that Australia leads the world in residential rooftop solar with 16 per cent of households installing solar (the next highest is Belgium with 7 per cent).
The advent of the Millennium Drought, and the associated restrictions, social marketing campaigns and behaviour change programs, brought about big changes in how we use water though these gains are now being lost as governments lift restrictions. In transport, while Australia remains a car-centric society, there have been distinct shifts in travel patterns with strong growth in public transport use and cycling in some cities. Meanwhile, despite the amount of waste going to landfill in the past decade increasing, a significant proportion of that waste is converted to biogas, resulting in a 22 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from waste.
“So what?” you might ask. It means that when we think about how to engage people, we need to think about whether the ways we’ve been doing it are still relevant. A lot of theoretical approaches were developed before the turn of the century or shortly after when it was assumed that patterns of living were stable or locked-in to ever increasing consumption rates. That’s no longer the case, at least not in all sectors. They key is looking at what is it about those choices and behaviours that have shifted and how can we extend this to other more problematic issues?
I’ve got some thoughts, that I’ll explore in the next blog post, but if anyone has any ideas let me know.