Customer Attitude and Intentions to Conserve Electricity

Ziyad A. Awad, Southern California Edison Company
Roger H. Johnston, Jr., Southern California Edison Company
Shel Feldman, Associates for Research in Behavior
Michael V. Williams, Southern California Edison Company
[ to cite ]:
Ziyad A. Awad, Roger H. Johnston, Jr., Shel Feldman, and Michael V. Williams (1983) ,"Customer Attitude and Intentions to Conserve Electricity", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, eds. Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 652-654.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, 1983      Pages 652-654


Ziyad A. Awad, Southern California Edison Company

Roger H. Johnston, Jr., Southern California Edison Company

Shel Feldman, Associates for Research in Behavior

Michael V. Williams, Southern California Edison Company

[The views expressed in this paper are the author's and not necessarily those of the Southern California Edison Company.]


Conserving energy is a national concern. To effect public regulatory and corporate policy, efficient ways to motivate people to conserve energy must be developed. In order to do this, it is important that the relationship between attitude toward conservation and behavior be elucidated (Cook and Berrenberg, 1981).

Traditional econometric approaches to the modeling of energy consumption have focused primarily on income, appliance ownership and actual consumption (Parti and Parti, 1980). Stern and Gardner (1981), among others, have argued that psychological research can contribute additional understanding of energy consumption issues. In particular, Olsen (1981) and Bentler and Speckart (1979) have stated that the model of attitude/behavior relations proposed by Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) be investigated as a useful aspect of research in the area of relating attitude to energy consumption.

The objective of this paper is to consider the efficacy of attitude characteristics in models of intentions to engage in energy consuming behavior. The criterion modeled in this survey is intention to conserve. Recent research (e.g. Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975; Bagozzi, 1981) has shown that measures of a person's behavioral intentions are highly predictive of relevant behavior, given that the behavior discussed is well specified, that the tine between predict on and occasion is relatively short, and that the behavior is actually under the individual's control.

This paper presents estimations of a simple specification of a model of conservation behavior. Intentions to conserve are considered to be a function of attitude and beliefs about the consequences of engaging in the specific conservation behaviors. Several different conservation intentions were measured in this study. The analyses presented deal with respondents' intentions regarding each specific conservation behavior. The results of those analyses appear to have major implications for enhancing conservation behavior among individuals.



A total sample of 1,289 respondents was obtained. The sample was stratified by SCE service areas, and included both respondents interviewed in English and those interviewed in Spanish. All respondents were adults who pay SCE electricity bills and were residents in the sampled home for at least one summer.

Interview Procedures

Telephone interviewing was utilized for the great majority of the sample. Where no telephone number was listed for the address provided in the sampling frame, either because of lack of telephone or use of an unlisted number, personal interviews were utilized. Overall, interviews were initiated with 46 percent of the eligible members of the total sampling frame.


The total questionnaire required just over 30 minutes to administer by telephone. It was developed on the basis of earlier SCE questionnaires, the results of a series of five focus groups and two pretests of approximately 100 ratepayers each.

The key dependent variables in this survey were intentions to engage in specific electricity-conserving behaviors:

Keeping the air conditioning thermostat at 78¦F or higher during the day

Eliminating the dishwasher dry cycle

Turning off lights when no one is in the room

Washing and drying only full loads of clothes

Keeping the heating thermostat at 68¦F or lower during the day

Respondents were asked how likely they would be to engage in each of the five behaviors. Likelihood was indexed on a five point scale ranging from "not at all likely" to "extremely likely."


A wide variety of psychological and demographic variables were measured in this study. We consider here only a subset of the measures collected.


Each respondent was asked to indicate a level of agreement or disagreement with a wide variety of attitudinal statements regarding electricity conservation (31 statements in all). Principal Components analysis of the response matrices was used to develop four factors that account for the systematic variation in those responses, with each derived scale having a reliability coefficient of .51 or higher. The nature of these s.ales may be ascertained from Table 1, which indica; s three of the statements included in each, and the loading of each of these statements on the relevant scale.



Beliefs about the Consequences of Behavior

Finally, respondents were asked to indicate how likely each of the conservation behaviors is to reduce energy use in the home. Responses were on a five point scale ranging from extremely likely" to not at all likely.


Analyses were carried out to regress each specific conservation intention on the four attitude factors and on beliefs about the consequences of the behavior (i.e. the likelihood of the behavior resulting in energy savings). Specifically:

Y=f(Al. A2. A3 A4, B)   (1)


Y=Intention to conserve for a specific electrical end use.


A2=Concern for Supply

A3=Avowal of Social Norms

A4-Home Economics

B=Beliefs about the consequences of the behavior.

The regressions yielded a statistically reliable model for each conservation behavior. The proportion of variation that is accounted for by the models and the parameter estimates are shown in Table 2.



The results presented in Table 2 lead to three preliminary conclusions:

Attitude is predictive of behavioral intention.

Beliefs about the consequences of a behavior are predictive of behavioral intentions.

Behavioral intentions regarding different electricity end uses are related to different general attitudes toward conservation.

In all cases, beliefs about the efficacy of a conservation action is predictive of intention to engage in that action. This result is consistent with current theory regarding the relationship between attitude and behavior; that is, an individual is not likely to engage in a behavior, irrespective to attitude, unless she believes that engaging in the behavior will lead to the desired consequence. If an individual values household conservation and believes turning the air conditioner off to be efficacious, it is expected that she will intend to do so and, moreover, will do so if opportunity allows. If, on the other hand, she believes that turning the air conditioner off will not result in energy savings, she would not be expected to do so.

The data presented also demonstrate the value of attitude in models of conservation behavior; however, the relationship is complex. The research reported in this paper employed derived orthogonal attitude factors. Each of the four factors is assumed to describe one aspect of conservation attitude. The four factors were derived as part of the larger research context of which this paper is one part. That research proposes that attitude toward conservation is directed primarily by those four components.

Examination of Table v demonstrates quite clearly that intentions to engage in conservation for specific end uses are driven by different attitude factors. Cynicism is related to the temperature setting on the air conditioning thermostat, eliminating the dishwasher dry cycle, and limiting the use of lights when not in the room. Concern for Supply is related only to the use of lights while Home Economics is related only to the thermostat setting on the heater. Like Cynicism, Avowal of Social Norms is related to several practices, washing and drying only full loads, the heater thermostat setting and limiting the use of lights

The analysis reported here demonstrates that intentions to engage in different conservation behaviors are driven by different components of the conservation attitude factor space. This suggests two conclusions:

General information about attitude toward conservation is unlikely to be predictive of specific behavior.

Appeals to engage in specific conservation behavior should be targeted to the appropriate emotional driving force (attitude).

These findings are consistent with the behavioral specificity argument of Fishbein's that was noted above. Seligman et al (1979) have found similar results when attempting to predict summer energy use from attitudes. They identified four attitude factors, "comfort and health concerns," "effort to conserve and monetary savings," "role of the individual," and "legitimacy of the energy crisis." While not a perfect replication, our findings tend to support the existence of a multi-factor structure to individual attitude toward conservation. The present research effort goes beyond demonstrating the existence of multiple factors and examines the relationships between the factors and several conservation behaviors.

In order to strengthen intentions to engage in a particular electricity conserving behavior, it is useful:

to introduce or strengthen beliefs that the particular behavior will result in outcomes valued by the individual.

to increase favorability toward outcomes that will result from the behavior considered.

to enhance the perception that the behavior considered is normative.

to strengthen motivation to comply with social norms and expectation.


A number of recent psychological studies have shown that predictions of behavior are more likely to be accurate the more specific the behavior at issue, the closer in time the prediction to the test situation, and the more the behavior is under the control of the individual considered. The data reviewed show that a parallel situation occurs with respect to behavioral intentions. It is much easier to model or predict intentions to engage in specific electricity conserving behaviors than it is to predict some summary measure of intention to conserve.

The relatively greater power of individual models over an average model implies the need to develop specific campaigns to encourage specific conservation behaviors. Without specific, targeted campaigns, it is likely that most ratepayers who are motivated to conserve will do so at the least cost to themselves, and, it may be assumed, with the least benefic in regard to reducing load. Such efforts would not only be somewhat wasted with respect to aggregate savings, they would also be of relatively little value with respect to individual savings. Further outcomes of such low-benefit efforts might then be a diminished sense of personal control and increased cynicism regarding the value to conservation by the ratepayer.

Successful campaigns targeted to encourage a specific electricity conserving behavior are likely to require detailed understanding of the factors determining that particular behavior, its costs and benefits. In addition, they are likely to require detailed understanding of the needs, awareness and understanding of different ratepayer segments. with respect to that behavior.


Bentler, P.M. and Speckart, G. (1979), Models of Attitude-Behavior Relations, Psychological Review, 86(5), 452-464.

Bagozzi, Richard P. (1981), Attitudes, Intentions, and Behavior: A Test of Some Key Hypotheses, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41(4), 607-627.

Cook, Stuart W. and Berrenberg, Joy L. (1981), "Approaches to Encouraging Conservation Behavior: A Review and Conceptual Framework," Journal of Social Issues, 37(2), 73-107.

Parti, Michael and Parti, Cynthia (1980), The Total and Appliance-Specific Conditional Demand for Electricity in the Household Sector, Bell Journal of Economics, 11, 309-321.

Olsen, Marvin E. (1981), Consumers' Attitudes Toward Energy Conservation, Journal of Social Issues, 37(2), 108-131.

Seligman, C., Kriss, M., Darley, J.M., Fazio, R.H., Becker, L.J.,and Pryor, J.B. (19,9) Predicting Summer Energy Consumption from Homeowners' Attitudes, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 9(1), 70-90.

Stern, Paul C. and Gardner, Gerald T. (1981), "Psychological Research and Energy Policy, American Psychologist, 36(4), 329-342.