Using Behavioral Science to Achieve Your Company’s Climate Targets

How CSR and Sustainability Leaders can Leverage Spheres of Influence to Turn Employees into Energy Efficiency Influencers 

Almost a quarter of Fortune 500 companies have made public commitments that they will be carbon neutral, using 100% renewable power, or meeting a science-based internal emission reduction target by 2030. The number is up fourfold since the Paris agreement was signed in 2016. 

The demands of employees, the ability to hire the best talent, achieving cost savings, enhancing brand trust and reputation, regulation, investor interest, and customer expectations are strong incentives for companies to accelerate their climate action. Not to mention, the real threat of climate change, and the urgent need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions within the next 10 years, has been amplified by extreme wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, and flooding around the world. 

As a result, the conversation in corporate boardrooms is no longer “Why?” companies should commit to GHG reduction targets, it’s “How?” these publicly committed targets can be achieved.

How companies can leverage their employees to save energy

While companies will be focusing their decarbonization strategies on high-impact areas such as supply chains, manufacturing plants, or transport fleets, there’s a renewed focus on the role of employees – both as the drivers (or blockers) of change, and their contribution to a company’s emissions overall.

CSR and Sustainability Leaders are challenged to motivate employees to become active agents of change, identifying opportunities to reduce emissions in their company’s operations, and reducing the energy use of their day-to-day activities. 

Even during Covid-19, companies can coordinate measurable and collective large-scale climate action by employees by leveraging behavioral interventions within their employees’ spheres of influence. And they should begin implementing this approach by first focusing on energy efficiency. 

While environmental initiatives focused on plastics or food waste are worthy campaigns, climate change is the existential threat. Therefore, companies should focus their initiatives on addressing energy use, which, in the form of electricity and heating, represents up to a third of total carbon emissions. 

Plus, carbon emission reductions from energy efficient behavior changes and equipment upgrades are generally cost effective investments, with quicker return-on-invest (ROI). 

Leveraging Spheres of Influence

Within the context of the Social-Ecological Model developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner, spheres of influence are the multiple levels (individual, interpersonal, organizational, community, and public policy) of influence that shape an individual’s behaviors. 

CSR and Sustainability Leaders can use this same model to analyze the factors that cause employees to take or not take part in corporate energy efficiency initiatives. 

The model suggests that in order to get people to take action to combat climate change, it is necessary to act across multiple spheres of influence at the same time. This approach is more likely to sustain climate change mitigation efforts over time than any single intervention.

Up until now, energy efficiency efforts have primarily been focused at levels of public policy and mass marketing campaigns promoting rebates. To accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient equipment and behaviors to achieve climate targets, the science suggests focusing on organizational and interpersonal spheres of influence.  

At the organizational level, many individuals are heavily influenced by their work environment. Work is a place where we spend most of our time, it’s where we cooperate in teams, and it is also a place where many of us derive our sense of status. 

Employer-driven energy efficiency initiatives can leverage these same factors to motivate employees to take up climate change mitigation efforts. 

At the interpersonal level, many of our work relationships now exist partially or completely on digital platforms. Especially now due to Covid-19, digital platforms offer a convenient way to connect with colleagues quickly, allow for the easy sharing of information, and enable users to keep tabs on what their colleagues are doing in real-time. If you see your team or colleagues posting about taking part in corporate energy efficiency initiatives, you are more likely to be interested in joining in. 

So how can companies apply energy efficiency initiatives at the organizational and interpersonal levels? 

Applying Behavior-Based Interventions

Behavioral interventions are proven methods of achieving significant energy savings. 

In fact, a large portion of utility residential energy efficiency portfolio savings now come from behavior based interventions, primarily in the form of Home Energy Reports. Behavior-based programs are some of the most cost-effective energy efficiency programs. 

ACEEE’s report titled, “Reducing Energy Waste through Municipally Led Behavior Change Programs (2018)” shows that a wide variety of behavioral interventions can yield significant energy saving results:

  • Normative comparisons displayed via Home Energy Reports yield 1.2 – 2.2% in electricity savings 
  • Competitions and games can yield up to 14% energy savings for residential electricity, and 1.8 – 21% for commercial electricity
  • Community-based strategies involving social interaction can yield 4.4 – 27% in energy savings
  • Real-time energy use feedback can yield 1 – 15% energy savings for electricity

Which leads us to our final question – how can companies apply behavioral interventions within the organizational and interpersonal spheres of influence of their employees?

  • Normative comparisons

Companies should establish benchmarks and compare the energy efficiency of different teams or buildings publicly. Just seeing others’ performance in relation to their own will spur on employees to do better next time.  

  • Competitions and games

It’s no secret that gamification, incentives, and competitions are some of the most effective tactics to get employees involved in any type of corporate activity – be it volunteering initiatives, annual reviews, or fit-bit-challenges. Corporate Social Responsibility leaders should consider how they can embed some of these tactics into their energy-saving initiatives. 

  • Community-based strategies involving social interaction

Cross-functional teams or employee-driven initiatives are particularly effective in getting others involved and motivated to effect change in organizations. Collaboration tools such as Slack or corporate intranets make it easy to form teams even in the virtual world and foster social interaction. Sustainability Leaders should apply a bottom-up approach and design their energy-saving initiatives around communities and interactions among employees. 

  • Real-time energy use feedback

Research shows that real-time feedback based on data makes behavior-based interventions up to 15% more effective. Companies should seek to include real-time energy use feedback into their energy savings initiatives whenever possible. 

Benefits beyond individual energy savings

While applying these behavior-based interventions above will allow CSR leaders to motivate employees to take part in corporate energy savings initiatives and reduce their energy consumption as a result, the effect will likely go far beyond individual behavior.

Employees will become more conscious of the impact of individual and corporate actions. They will notice the energy waste around them. They will start conversations with peers and managers. They will develop ideas on how to improve energy efficiency at their workplace and in their company’s processes.

Just like companies that want to drive innovation send their employees to design thinking boot camps, CSR leaders that design behavior-based energy efficiency initiatives for employees will cultivate a workforce that is alert towards potential energy efficiency improvements and motivated to drive change beyond their personal sphere of influence. 

Introducing MeterLeader

MeterLeader ( is a sustainability-focused employee engagement platform based on behavioral science, applying behavioral interventions in the context of organizational and interpersonal spheres of influence. 

MeterLeader allows CSR/Sustainability leaders to easily create customizable energy saving challenges for employees that are integrated with real-time energy data. MeterLeader is similar to a Fitbit challenge, but instead of steps, it measures kilowatt-hour and therm reductions. 

Companies can use MeterLeader to help them meet their sustainability goals, measure and report building  energy use, provide community engagement for their employees, and recognize and reward those employees who make significant carbon emission reductions. 

MeterLeader has automated “energy saving competition” best practices and integrated proven behavioral science principles into its platform. We make saving energy easy and fun, by employing a core learning loop (central to Game Thinking design). We help employees become as energy efficient as possible by guiding them along a journey of skill-building and mastery. 

Employees get a chance to save money on their utility bills (if home-based), win prizes, and feel good knowing they are contributing to their employer’s climate goals. 

Challenge organizers can create and maintain energy savings challenges within minutes – no energy expertise needed. See for yourself and start a free trial now

Currently, the MeterLeader platform integrates PG&E electricity and natural gas data, as well as Southern California Edison electricity data (integration of SDG&E coming soon!).

This is a new distributed approach to behavior-based energy efficiency.

Natalie Zandt is the Founder & CEO of MeterLeader. She has 10 years of experience working in the energy efficiency industry, as well as experience in UX design and software delivery management. Prior to starting MeterLeader, Natalie was an energy efficiency consultant managing residential lighting, appliance, water heater, and behavior-based energy efficiency programs for utility clients in Maryland and California. She is passionate about using data, technology, design, and behavioral science to solve big environmental problems. She is also passionate about uplifting women in the tech and business world. She created MeterLeader in order to empower everyone to measurably reduce their carbon emissions.