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ETHNOGRAPHIES OF 
ENERGY 
Susan Mazur-Stommen, Ph.D . 
Director, Behavior and Human Dimensions, ACEEE
THREE PROJECTS 
• Cool Roof Retrofits: The Role of Rebates 
• Client: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL) 
• De...
ENERGY EFFICIENCY 
• Engineers 
• Utilities, which oversee, fund, and run programs in EE, tend to be dominated by 
an engi...
ANTHROPLOGISTS AND 
SOCIOLOGISTS 
• Willett Kempton, Environmental Values in American Culture 
• Elizabeth Shove, Comfort,...
BEHAVIOR AND ETHNOGRAPHY 
• Dismantling the irrational belief in the ‘rational autonomous actor’ and the 
Gordian knots of...
PROBLEMS STUDYING ENERGY 
• Energy is a terrible concept: 
• It does not reflect the behaviors that intersect with it. 
• ...
ETHNOGRAPHY OF 
COOL ROOF RETROFITS 
• Summer of 2010, ethnographic research was conducted with nine households in the 
Ba...
CONCRETE SHAKE 
SMUD Territory – this housing 
development had a HOA and CCRs. 
Social pressure to conform will be 
backed...
FINDINGS 
• Findings about rebates 
• Rebates did not drive decision-making by customers with respect to material 
selecti...
TAKEAWAYS 
• Customers confront a complex universe of decision points – therefore they 
rely on contractors to ‘decide’ fo...
TRUSTED PARTNERS: EVERYDAY 
ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN THE SOUTH 
• What it was: 
• A multi-sited, qualitative research project ...
NEW LIGHT 
Oldest church in Corinth, MS, sports 
CFLs in its portico – undermining 
claims that ‘people in the South are 
...
METHOD AND PROCESS 
• We went to the field to look for common patterns of behavior across a 
variety of settings (rural to...
EXPLANATORY NARRATIVES 
• My previous work, in Germany, was strongly concerned with history, 
memory, and tradition. Myths...
SILK ROSES AT 
CRYPT IN ST, LOUIS 
CEMETERY NO. 1 
Walking around the cemetery looking 
for Marie Laveau’s tomb, using 
ar...
WHY TRUSTED PARTNERS? 
• What we mean by Trusted Partners (and the lack thereof) 
• Are consumers the problem? 
• States i...
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CAPITALS 
• Interventions in energy efficiency often take place with the individual or 
household as t...
ACROSS THE SOUTH 
Suburban Georgia 
Upper income homeowners in large 
footprint houses (3500 square feet 
and above) in tw...
LOW INCOME IS NOT A ‘SEGMENT’ 
Capitals matter! 
• There are significant barriers to reaching low-income households with 
...
INTERSECTION OF RACE AND 
CLASS 
• Jared, who is white, had never directly paid a utility bill despite living 
his entire ...
RAINY, SUNDAY 
MORNINGS 
“I can get up, rainy Sunday mornings, 
that I can get up and can be sitting in 
my house on any d...
ENGAGING MANUFACTURERS IN 
ENERGY EFFICIENCY BEHAVIOR 
• Research on behavior and energy efficiency tends to focus on resi...
EMPOWERED WORKERS? 
• Hypothesis to be tested: Workers believe they have little or no power to 
control their energy use 
...
DIGITAL PETS 
Some of you may remember the 
Tamagotchi Digital Pets craze. Well, 
for those of you who think it died in th...
BUILDINGS AS PETS 
So what do key fob digital pets from ten years ago 
have to do with saving energy? 
Research shows that...
CONTEXT AND PERCEPTION 
• In this project (proposed) we were interested in tackling how people 
respond to cues provided b...
ANTHROPOLOGY OF ENERGY 
• I am an applied and practicing 
urban anthropologist 
• My goal is to make the world a 
better p...
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Presentation made to WAPA: Washington Area Practicing Anthropologists. May 2013. Discusses a variety of projects which used ethnography or other anthropological understanding as part of the methodology.

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Ethnographies of Energy: Three Projects

  1. 1. ETHNOGRAPHIES OF ENERGY Susan Mazur-Stommen, Ph.D . Director, Behavior and Human Dimensions, ACEEE
  2. 2. THREE PROJECTS • Cool Roof Retrofits: The Role of Rebates • Client: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL) • Designed and conducted ethnographic research in 2010. The purpose was to collect insights into how and why consumers chose the cool roofing material they selected. • Trusted Partners: Everyday Energy Efficiency • Employer: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) • Yearlong project with five research sites in five states. We conducted in-depth interviews at sites in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana and intercepts at the Great American Truck Show in Dallas, TX. • Industrial Engagement: Shop-floor workers and Energy Efficiency • Proposed to NYSERDA – using in-depth ethnographic methods to examine production line processes and behavior around energy usage.
  3. 3. ENERGY EFFICIENCY • Engineers • Utilities, which oversee, fund, and run programs in EE, tend to be dominated by an engineering mind-set. This manifests itself in designing technologies to reduce human interference in systems (e.g. buildings). • Economists • The ‘second epoch’ of energy conservation brought in economics and the rational actor, with an emphasis on pricing energy usage to change ‘behavior’ • Psychologists • Until recently, the role of psychology in studying energy was limited to devising attitudinal surveys, and a focus on consumer ‘decision-making’ • Anthropologists/Sociologists • Rare – strangely the people most used to studying ‘behavior’ empirically are the least engaged in this field (though there are some great folks working in it!)
  4. 4. ANTHROPLOGISTS AND SOCIOLOGISTS • Willett Kempton, Environmental Values in American Culture • Elizabeth Shove, Comfort, Cleanliness, and Convenience • Ed Vine, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, IPCC committee • Hal Wilhite, Energy consumption as cultural practice • Loren Lutzenheiser, Comfort in a Lower Carbon Society • Richard Wilk, “Consuming America” • Tom Turrentine, “Symbolism in Early Markets for Hybrid Electric Vehicles”
  5. 5. BEHAVIOR AND ETHNOGRAPHY • Dismantling the irrational belief in the ‘rational autonomous actor’ and the Gordian knots of constructs like ‘Free-riders’ that have bedeviled the energy efficiency/conservation community. • Thanks to thirty years of hard work on the part of those mentioned on the last page we have, in the past 5-6 years, arrived at a tipping point. • The message that people do not always actually do what they say they do has penetrated. • Surveying people on attitudes about energy efficient practices and products has produced a gap between statements and actions. • Grounded methodologies, including participant-observation and in-depth interviewing techniques, have gained in credence.
  6. 6. PROBLEMS STUDYING ENERGY • Energy is a terrible concept: • It does not reflect the behaviors that intersect with it. • It is invisible: • Except for a delayed report, we do not experience usage • It is a set of goods and services: • Used to clean, light, warm, lift, move, dry people, their stuff, and their homes. • It is a product and yet it is treated like a commodity. • There are no brands. Not even a Techcroline. • Unholy mess of distribution • IOUS, Munis, and Coops in 50 states and a zillion climates; urban, surburban, rural • Big differences in regulatory environments: ACEEE State Scorecard
  7. 7. ETHNOGRAPHY OF COOL ROOF RETROFITS • Summer of 2010, ethnographic research was conducted with nine households in the Bay Area and Sacramento region. • These nine households comprised fifteen respondents, and their dependents. • They were selected from among a pool of respondents to a mail solicitation of all Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Pacific Gas and Electric customers who had received a rebate for their cool roof retrofit. • Goal was to collect data on how and why consumers chose the cool roofing material used. • Ethnographic methods of fieldwork, including: • Semi-structured ethnographic interviewing • Grand tour questions • Participant observation • Freelist techniques • Photography
  8. 8. CONCRETE SHAKE SMUD Territory – this housing development had a HOA and CCRs. Social pressure to conform will be backed up by legal pressure, making decisions based upon strictly technical specifications meaningless.
  9. 9. FINDINGS • Findings about rebates • Rebates did not drive decision-making by customers with respect to material selection in cool roofs • Rebates were an insignificant portion of cost incurred • Rebates were always an after-thought • Rebates were often applied for by the contractors and not the consumers • Roof retrofit costs varied wildly, and so did rebates • Other findings • Customers do not calculate ROI with respect to roof materials • E.g. customers typically do not track energy expenditures • ‘Longevity’ of material was a primary concern • Price was used to filter out contenders, grossly • Material selection is based upon factors like neighborhood fit and aesthetics, rather than performance and cost • Overall, customers were pleased with retrofits
  10. 10. TAKEAWAYS • Customers confront a complex universe of decision points – therefore they rely on contractors to ‘decide’ for them • Consumers are confronted by a wide field of products, materials, colors, features, benefits, drawbacks, and price • A cool roof is not an infrastructural upgrade, it is a consumable, therefore decisions are made based upon one’s identity and position vis-à-vis other neighbors, than on technical specifications. • The role of a utility rebate may not be as driver but as signifier, closing out the process and symbolizing its completion as a ‘job well done’. However, the halo accrues to the contractor, not the utility. • Utilities could better invest rebate money in contractor training, giving them the ROI information that can then be channeled to customers. • This could be a win-win-win, utilities see appropriate materials being promoted, contractors have sales tool, consumers save money.
  11. 11. TRUSTED PARTNERS: EVERYDAY ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN THE SOUTH • What it was: • A multi-sited, qualitative research project on everyday energy practices across the sectors of buildings, agriculture, and transportation. • We conducted in-depth interviews with Southerners in 4 states • We talked with people in small towns and big cities, in their homes, on their farms, and at their businesses. • Our primary states were Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi • We visited the Great American Truck Show in Dallas, TX where we did intercepts. Major Questions • How do residents of the South understand their energy consumption and what are their attitudes toward consumption and conservation? • What are the relationships affecting their energy consumption, such as those with their utilities, city administrations, and federal agencies?
  12. 12. NEW LIGHT Oldest church in Corinth, MS, sports CFLs in its portico – undermining claims that ‘people in the South are not interested in energy efficiency’. We recommended that energy providers partner with more trusted partners, including religious institutions, civic organizations, and voluntary associations to make up for a lack of economic capital.
  13. 13. METHOD AND PROCESS • We went to the field to look for common patterns of behavior across a variety of settings (rural to urban), social strata, and sectors (buildings, commercial, residential, transportation, agricultural) • It was critical to us to represent the diversity that exists in the South; so we selected sites that could stand in for the geographical distribution of consumers. • We wanted to offer a set of viewpoints that capture the nuance and complexity present in the region. • Our respondents represent a range of incomes, ethnicities, ages, and educational statuses • There are qualitative and quantitative differences in people’s worldviews depending upon their location • We used the “rural to urban continuum” as one of four theoretical axes.
  14. 14. EXPLANATORY NARRATIVES • My previous work, in Germany, was strongly concerned with history, memory, and tradition. Myths are an important part of this type of research. • Every sub-culture will have developed a mythos, an explanatory narrative, unique to their specific history and social structure. • We listened to the views expressed by our interviewees that showed how they understood the larger forces and events around them such as Hurricane Katrina. • People in New Orleans noted their presence or absence during Katrina with respect to their own claims of a New Orleans identity and authenticity. • Another example is the variety of explanations truckers gave for why they did not like more energy efficient Super Single Tires, such as not delivering claimed mileage or being overweight for border crossings.
  15. 15. SILK ROSES AT CRYPT IN ST, LOUIS CEMETERY NO. 1 Walking around the cemetery looking for Marie Laveau’s tomb, using archaeological GIS mapping done by UPenn (and provided on an app!) We could hear myth-making happening all around us. Students, tourists, story-tellers, caretakers, all were walking and pointing in different directions, asserting where the tomb was and offering explanations as to why their pick was the correct one!
  16. 16. WHY TRUSTED PARTNERS? • What we mean by Trusted Partners (and the lack thereof) • Are consumers the problem? • States in the South have relatively few state- and utility-run energy efficiency programs and explanations offered for this absence include that the lack of energy efficiency programs and policy in the South is partly due to consumer indifference. • It is a commonplace in energy research to focus on consumer behavior – but none of it takes place in a vacuum. • Consumers, whether residential, commercial, agricultural (or industrial) need partners to deliver the services and information they need to change the way they use energy. • In the South, there are good candidates for partners, but barriers remain.
  17. 17. SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CAPITALS • Interventions in energy efficiency often take place with the individual or household as the intended audience and agent of change. • This does not always take into account the complexity and nuance of consumers’ decision making. • As people navigate their social environment, their choices are constrained by material conditions, like access to resources and control over their environment. • There is a critical need to understand the social and cultural forces affecting individuals’ decision making. • Dead people do my shopping! • In addition to structuring our site selection around the rural to urban continuum, and keeping a look out for emergent myths, we also used a framework of social and cultural capitals. • The variability of social and cultural capitals influences the range of decisions that individuals can or are inclined to make, and yet this variability is often not given very much weight in energy usage research.
  18. 18. ACROSS THE SOUTH Suburban Georgia Upper income homeowners in large footprint houses (3500 square feet and above) in two very affluent zip codes. Rural Alabama Six farms, and the multi-generation families that run them. A tightly integrated social network in a ‘dry’ county. Truck Show in Texas Independent owner-operators and their rigs at the Polish ‘n’ Shine contest, Great American Truck Show in Dallas.
  19. 19. LOW INCOME IS NOT A ‘SEGMENT’ Capitals matter! • There are significant barriers to reaching low-income households with energy efficiency services and information. • Low-income populations are diverse in terms of culture, language, and housing arrangements. • Even self-identified low-income residents of New Orleans had not defined themselves as in need of assistance. • The variations in types and levels of capital which individuals can possess or access make defining such populations in need problematic for the energy providers who serve them!
  20. 20. INTERSECTION OF RACE AND CLASS • Jared, who is white, had never directly paid a utility bill despite living his entire life in New Orleans. All of his landlords have bundled his rent with the utility bills. • Jared believed that it was a common practice to bundle rent with utility bills • Michelle, who is black, and who also grew up in New Orleans, claimed that it was very uncommon for a landlord to bundle rent and utilities. • The role of race and other demographic aspects in receiving energy efficiency information is a rich potential area of research.
  21. 21. RAINY, SUNDAY MORNINGS “I can get up, rainy Sunday mornings, that I can get up and can be sitting in my house on any day and a Second Line roll down—I can travel the same street 20 times and suddenly see a house with the most magnificent architecture, the history of the city, the color of the city, the music, the food. When I first came home [after Katrina] I walked in Rouse’s [a local supermarket chain] and there was an older lady in there and she said, “Hey baby,” and I was just in tears. That’s what I love about New Orleans.”
  22. 22. ENGAGING MANUFACTURERS IN ENERGY EFFICIENCY BEHAVIOR • Research on behavior and energy efficiency tends to focus on residential or institutional settings. • Relatively little research exists that investigates the potential for behavior change to impact industrial energy savings. • This project was proposed for smaller manufacturers in NYC, in partnership with SoBro, to be funded through NYSERDA. • We did not get the grant, but a cloned version is now in the works for Illinois and possibly four other Midwest states in partnership with Delta Institute. We are currently seeking funding. • The project will rely on ethnographic methods for research, with fieldwork occurring in several stages.
  23. 23. EMPOWERED WORKERS? • Hypothesis to be tested: Workers believe they have little or no power to control their energy use • If workers say they have no control over energy use and this statement is confirmed through observation, then no interventions are possible without leadership from management. • If observations suggest that workers do have some control over their energy use, then we will develop one intervention to shift one behavior. • For example, we might observe that workers tend to leave lights on or fans running unnecessarily at the end of the day. • We are interested in using relatively subtle cues to nudge behavior, rather than larger, more obvious changes in practices or management styles. • Our work reaches beyond anthropology and aims to be inter-disciplinary
  24. 24. DIGITAL PETS Some of you may remember the Tamagotchi Digital Pets craze. Well, for those of you who think it died in the 90s, I have news for you…. As of 2010 there had been 76 million sold, and movies, songs, and games continue to be churned out daily.
  25. 25. BUILDINGS AS PETS So what do key fob digital pets from ten years ago have to do with saving energy? Research shows that LEED buildings are not living up to their potential for saving energy. The problem with beautifully designed and carefully engineered LEED buildings is just all those darn PEOPLE! If only they wouldn’t leave doors open, or bring in space heaters, or mess with the thermostat settings. But what would happen if people treated them like pets? What are the implications for creating positive habits for energy management in buildings? OMG!
  26. 26. CONTEXT AND PERCEPTION • In this project (proposed) we were interested in tackling how people respond to cues provided by their environment, and how these phenomena could be incorporated into commercial building design. • Specifically, we looked at how environmental context stimulates activities and affects perception—in particular, color, light, odor, sound, and spatial layout. • This project required us to stretch and look into the methods and theories of environmental psychology, an example of our inter-disciplinarity. • In order to truly dispense with the notion that humans are rational actors making empirically based decisions, we used this to discuss the ways that environmental cues affect human perception, judgment, and decision-making.
  27. 27. ANTHROPOLOGY OF ENERGY • I am an applied and practicing urban anthropologist • My goal is to make the world a better place through improving resilience and sustainability in both the built and natural environments. • Humans affect, and are affected by, both, and in most cases energy is a root cause. • I see my work as contributing to an anthropology of energy. • QUESTIONS?

Presentation made to WAPA: Washington Area Practicing Anthropologists. May 2013. Discusses a variety of projects which used ethnography or other anthropological understanding as part of the methodology.

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