Sustainable energy consumption behaviour with smart meters: The role of relative performance and evaluative standards

Mar 28th, 2024 | By | Category: RSS Feed


The growing adoption of smart meters enables the measurement of households’ energy consumption, influenced not solely by building characteristics such as thermal insulation but also by residents’ behavioural patterns, such as heating and ventilation practices. To motivate residents to adopt more sustainable behaviours, user interfaces on smartphones and laptops are increasingly using consumption data from households’ smart meters to enable effective goal-setting. In contrast to previous research largely focusing on goal-setting in isolation, this study examines the role of specific social comparison-related design features that future research and practitioners can consider along with goal-setting to stimulate sustainable behaviours. Specifically, we look into the influence of residents’ perception of their relative performance (i.e., whether their behaviour was better or worse than a reference group) on their ambition to act (i.e., targeted improvement goal) and their actual energy consumption behaviour. Moreover, we investigate the influence of a goal’s evaluative standard (i.e., whether the goal refers to one’s own or other’s performance) on the relationship between relative performance, ambition to act, and energy consumption behaviour. Drawing on social comparison theory, we conducted a framed field experiment with 152 households. We find that a goal’s evaluative standard influences residents’ awareness of their relative performance, affecting their ambition to act and, ultimately, their energy consumption behaviour. More specifically, we find that whereas other- (vs. self-) referencing goals encourage residents from worse-than-average performing households more strongly to improve their energy consumption behaviour, they discourage better-than-average ones. Overall, our study provides novel insights into the interplay between relative performance and evaluative standards as a means of fostering social comparison in smart meter-facilitated goal-setting, highlighting their crucial role in effectively supporting sustainable behaviours.


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