Moezzi, M., & Janda, K. B. (2014). From “if only” to “social potential” in schemes to reduce building energy use. Energy Research & Social Science, 1, 30-40.


Abstract: Much of the people-centered attention in current work on building energy use focuses on changing the behavior of individuals around a fixed set of things and energy services. This work envisions policy interventions for reducing energy use that rest on motivating people to act on potential monetary savings or to prioritize contributing to the global good. These perspectives largely omit consideration of higher scale and more intricate social contexts, professional cultures, and expectations that shape the activities, habits, and practices behind energy use. Below we discuss a notion of “social potential” that affords a broader possible contribution of social sciences to improved understanding of building energy use and how policies might reshape this use. We begin with an overview of the basic genres of research on people and building energy use and outlines three common missed understandings evident in the energy efficiency industry’s attention to people: (1) “If only they knew”; (2) “If only they could be made to care”; and (3) “If only they stayed home.” Beyond individuals, communities, and organizations, we suggest social potential as a formulation that complements and transcends the technical and behavioral savings potential concepts underpinning much of today’s building energy efficiency policies, programs, and research.

Keywords: Technical potential; Behavioral potential; Social potential; Building energy use