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Benefits of household energy saving as a game

Cécile Chamaret
Cécile Chamaret
Professor in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at Ecole Polytechnique (IP Paris)
Julie Mayer
Julie Mayer
Lecturer at Université de Rennes
Mathias Guerineau
Mathias Guérineau
lecturer in management science at Université de Nantes
Key takeaways
  • A move towards energy sufficiency means that every household must make a daily effort to reduce energy consumption over the long term.
  • These resolutions are particularly difficult to keep in a world of over-consumption and constant pressure.
  • To encourage this transition, “gamification” can support systems for households in the form of games.
  • A study by i3-CRG identified four household profiles and characterised the changes in their behaviour as a result of gamification.
  • The result: games encourage eco-actions, but changing habits over the long term requires more structural changes.

In France, a num­ber of pub­lic poli­cies aimed at encour­ag­ing house­hold ener­gy man­age­ment are emerg­ing. How­ev­er, these are still not enough to sup­port house­holds in their dai­ly efforts to save ener­gy. With this in mind, the i3-CRG team at Ecole Poly­tech­nique (IP Paris) is try­ing to high­light the val­ue of gam­i­fi­ca­tion tools. 

Gam­i­fi­ca­tion refers to the inte­gra­tion of game ele­ments or game mech­a­nisms. Adapt­ing this con­cept to behav­iour change sup­port sys­tems could help to devel­op “full house­hold aware­ness”. In oth­er words, it would illus­trate the extent of the efforts made, and how long they last, to incor­po­rate ener­gy effi­cien­cy into their dai­ly routines.

The challenge of energy efficiency in the home

With lit­tle in the way of tan­gi­ble evi­dence, ener­gy con­sump­tion at home can escape dai­ly atten­tion, even for those deter­mined to con­trol their con­sump­tion more effec­tive­ly. In fact, it’s eas­i­er to see progress on a day-to-day basis when you’re com­mit­ted to reduc­ing waste than when you’re try­ing to reduce ener­gy con­sump­tion. Chang­ing habits takes time and long-term attention.

In a soci­ety of over-con­sump­tion and con­stant time pres­sure, new res­o­lu­tions can eas­i­ly be aban­doned or pushed to one side. This form of mind­ful­ness is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant in a domes­tic con­text, where house­holds are faced with mul­ti­ple and some­times con­tra­dic­to­ry dai­ly con­cerns. Gam­i­fi­ca­tion is one way of trig­ger­ing new behav­iours that can even­tu­al­ly become new habits, but can it main­tain them?

These ini­tial results raise ques­tions about the effec­tive­ness of gam­i­fi­ca­tion in ini­ti­at­ing a change in behaviour.

The i3-CRG’s research is look­ing at the “Déclics chal­lenges”, a French ini­tia­tive that aims to engage house­holds in ener­gy-sav­ing mea­sures through gam­i­fi­ca­tion. The data looks at six types of ener­gy-sav­ing prac­tices, such as reduc­ing needs or habits – par­tic­u­lar­ly in terms of heat­ing – or replac­ing ener­gy-guz­zling devices. This data is com­pared to the dif­fer­ent lev­els of aware­ness required to adopt these prac­tices. Inter­views with house­holds that have tak­en part in the Déclics chal­lenges are used to mea­sure the atten­tion­al inten­si­ty of their prac­tices, before, dur­ing and after the chal­lenges. In par­tic­u­lar, by describ­ing the prac­tices adopt­ed by par­tic­i­pants and the time and effort involved, the researchers can use ver­ba­tim cod­ing to mea­sure the impact of gam­i­fi­ca­tion on atten­tion levels.

Is gamification effective?

The results show that chal­lenges have dif­fer­ent effects on dif­fer­ent house­hold pro­files. Four pro­files were identified:

  • Revealed poten­tial: house­holds that were orig­i­nal­ly not very atten­tive to ener­gy-sav­ing eco-ges­tures, but which man­aged – fol­low­ing the chal­lenges – to change some of their rou­tines per­ma­nent­ly. These house­hold pro­files were par­tic­u­lar­ly recep­tive to gam­i­fi­ca­tion. How­ev­er, once the chal­lenge was over, they did not try to go beyond the prac­tices put in place dur­ing the challenge.
  • Missed oppor­tu­ni­ties: house­holds that are also not very atten­tive to ener­gy eco-ges­tures, but for whom the chal­lenges seem to have had lit­tle impact. Often signed up by a “dri­ving” fam­i­ly mem­ber, these house­holds found it dif­fi­cult to make the chal­lenge their own, either because the for­mats pro­posed were unsuit­ed to their life con­straints (times, place, for­mat, etc.), or because the oth­er mem­bers of the house­hold were pas­sive or even resis­tant to the intro­duc­tion of new routines.
  • Com­pet­i­tive house­holds: house­holds that are already atten­tive to suf­fi­cien­cy in their dai­ly lives, and which have been par­tic­u­lar­ly stim­u­lat­ed by the idea of com­pe­ti­tion, feed­back, and feed­back on their own per­for­mance. While these house­holds showed strong com­mit­ment dur­ing the chal­lenge, the dis­ap­pear­ance of the stim­uli at the end of the game caused their atten­tion to wane. Some admit to hav­ing lost their ‘good’ habits a few months or years later.
  • The dis­il­lu­sioned: house­holds who, para­dox­i­cal­ly, were already com­mit­ted to a low-ener­gy approach, but who were not fur­ther stim­u­lat­ed by the chal­lenge. These par­tic­i­pants regret not hav­ing learnt new prac­tices to bring about a deep­er or more struc­tur­al change in their lifestyles. For these dis­il­lu­sioned par­tic­i­pants, the challenge’s incen­tives – in par­tic­u­lar the mea­sure­ment of reduc­tions in elec­tric­i­ty con­sump­tion com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year – were not effec­tive, since most of the pro­posed eco-actions had already been inte­grat­ed into their own routines.

This data is explorato­ry and does not allow us to assess the con­tri­bu­tion of dif­fer­ent pro­files to the game. Future quan­ti­ta­tive research will enable this to be mea­sured. These ini­tial results raise ques­tions about the effec­tive­ness of gam­i­fi­ca­tion in ini­ti­at­ing a change in behav­iour. If gam­i­fi­ca­tion is to be suc­cess­ful­ly inte­grat­ed over the longer term, it will be nec­es­sary to take greater account of every­day con­straints and pro­vide bet­ter sup­port for house­holds. Final­ly, while gam­i­fi­ca­tion can ini­ti­ate indi­vid­ual changes, their sta­bil­i­ty over time depends on more struc­tur­al changes.

Ref­er­ences: Chamaret, C., Guérineau, M., & May­er, J. C. 2023. When say­ing “enough” is not enough: How cul­ti­vat­ing house­holds’ mind­ful­ness through gam­i­fi­ca­tion can pro­mote ener­gy suf­fi­cien­cy. Ener­gy Research & Social Sci­ence, 105: 103294.

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