Completed project: Soft incentives and energy consumption

The image shows a woman on a balcony.

The project examined how soft incentives such as changing default options and symbolic rewards encourage energy saving and the use of green power in households and businesses. It further investigated the relationship between environmental attitudes and energy-related behaviour.

The research goals of the project headed up by Prof. Ulf Liebe from the Institute of Sociology of the University of Bern included:

  • analysing the determinants of energy consumption taking into account socio-economic characteristics, future orientation and environmental concern.
  • experimentally testing the effectiveness of various measures, such as symbolic rewards and changing default options, in reducing energy consumption and promoting the use of green power in the household and business sector.


The main results of the project include the following five points:

  1. Environmental attitudes and future orientation are correlated with actual energy and electricity consumption. Based on a nationwide survey and field data, the project indicates that, next to income, environmental concern is correlated with greenhouse gas emissions in the mobility, housing and food domain, as well as with electricity saving behaviour.
  2. Data analysis with the Swiss Environmental Survey (SES) 2018 strongly supports the hypothesis that environmental concern matters for the acceptance of eco-friendly policies.
  3. Green energy defaults have massive and persistent effects on green energy uptake in the household and business sector. Based on data provided by two electricity providers the project could reveal that after introducing renewable energy as the standard package (the default) almost all households and businesses (around 90%) consumed renewable energy. Further, the SES 2018 showed that green energy defaults are accepted as a policy tool by the majority of Swiss citizens.
  4. A field experiment with symbolic rewards failed to show any significant effects on green energy uptake. However, this might be due to a “ceiling effect”. Possible effects of symbolic rewards should be explored in future research.
  5. There are remarkable gender differences with regard to electricity consumption and the acceptance of green energy defaults. In a field study we found that women use about 23% less electricity than men.