Energy Conservation


Magali Delmas





Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Anderson School of Management





Paloma Giottonini, visiting scholar.
Jonathan Bogard, doctoral student.


In this study, we investigate how children acting as energy conservation stewards can impact household practices and promote electricity conservation. Our goal is to understand how children can actively negotiate environmental issues with their families or exert actual influences on pro-environmental parental consumption.
The project consists of a five-week experiment known as the Dial Down Challenge, where participants have access to a web-based teaching module that provides information about electricity usage at home, as well as energy conservation strategies and tactics that children can use to influence their parents to conserve energy. The Dial Down challenge intends to motivate and guide participants to collaboratively reduce energy consumption. All activities are to be completed at home and they include watching educational videos, making small changes in daily activities such as turning down the refrigerator dial or aiming to take shorter showers, and completing short quizzes to assess household’s knowledge and practice of energy efficiency tasks. There is an entry survey to collect baseline information and demographic data, as well as an exit survey at the end of the five-week program. Even though all activities are to be completed at home, teachers at the Lab school will have a weekly check-in in their classrooms, using data, charts and guiding questions about energy usage.
Our results can help policymakers, utilities, and regulators identify, design, and invest in low-cost interventions that effectively mitigate electricity demand. This project provides a critical tool in California’s fight against climate change and a replicable model for engaging diverse communities in a shared effort to reduce electricity consumption in the residential sector.


Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of this century. One of the main causes of climate change is carbon emissions, and one of the largest contributors is electricity generation. In the United States, electricity generation contributed to about 32% of total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 (US EIA, 2020a). The residential sector is a major consumer of electricity, with about 40% of total electricity sales in 2019 (US EIA, 2020b), making it a target for interventions aiming to reduce consumption. Reducing electricity consumption is a concern and a priority for major climate change mitigation programs.

Across California and the nation, electric utilities are adopting energy efficiency programs with the intention to reduce demand and lower the carbon emissions derived from electricity generation. Most of these programs consist of incentives or rebates aimed at upgrading appliances. It is only recently that behavioral change programs aimed at reducing energy consumption have been incorporated. Communication and behavioral tools exist to promote electricity consumption reduction at the household level, beyond what can be achieved by acquiring energy-efficient appliances. In a fast-growing experimental literature, scholars have demonstrated that tailored information programs have a tremendous potential for reducing household electricity use (Delmas, Fishlein & Asensio, 2013; Delmas et al., 2014; Allcott, 2011). However, despite the popularity of this growing body of research, very little is currently known about the specific role of various household members in the decision to conserve energy (Hargreaves et al., 2013). In this study, we analyze the specific role children have in convincing their parents to reduce electricity consumption.

Energy conservation through technological and behavioral change is estimated to have a savings potential of 123 million metric tons of carbon per year, which represents 20% of US household direct emissions in the United States (Asensio & Delmas, 2015). In 2015, California set a new target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 (Executive Order B-30-15). While most of the attention has been placed on the generation of electricity, demand management through behavioral change provides a cost-effective solution to address this problem. Recent studies estimate that behavioral changes can reduce residential energy consumption by between 22 and 30 percent over the next 5 to 8 years (Laitner et al, 2009; Gardner & Stern, 2008). However, few studies have analyzed the different paths to action, and which ones are more effective. We focus on the convincing power of our close relatives. Recent experiments with children as promoters of conservation behavior have provided encouraging results (Lawson et al., 2019; Boudet et al., 2019). However, none of these studies explore electricity consumption at home. Our study will incorporate children, provide them with information and skills to convince their parents, and empower them to become energy conservation stewards.
In this randomized controlled trial, we test the efficacy of children as agents of household efficiency compared to disseminating energy efficiency information directly to adults. The dependent variables include electricity consumption, knowledge about electricity consumption, attitudes toward energy efficiency, and engagement with the online platform. We control for demographics (income, education attainment, ethnicity, size of home, household size) and weather. Participant assignment to treatment will occur at the classroom-level.

Allcott, H. (2011). Social norms and energy conservation. Journal of Public Economics 95(9-10): 1082-1095.
Asensio O. I., Delmas, M. A. (2015). Nonprice incentives and energy conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 112(6): E510-E515.
Boudet, H., Ardoin, N. M., Flora, J., Armel, K. C., Desai, M., & Robinson, T. N. (2016). Effects of a behaviour change intervention for Girl Scouts on child and parent energy-saving behaviours. Nature Energy, 1(8), 1-10.
Delmas, M. A., Fischlein, M., & Asensio, O. I. (2013). Information strategies and energy conservation behavior: A meta-analysis of experimental studies from 1975 to 2012. Energy Policy, 61, 729-739.
Delmas, M. A., Lessem, N. (2014). Saving power to conserve your reputation? The effectiveness of private versus public information. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 67(3), 353-370. Asensio OI, Delmas MA (2015) Nonprice incentives and energy conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 112(6):E510-E515.
Gardner, G. T., & Stern, P. C. (2008). The short list: The most effective actions US households can take to curb climate change. Environment: science and policy for sustainable development, 50(5), 12-25.
Hargreaves, T., Nye, M., & Burgess, J. (2013). Keeping energy visible? Exploring how householders interact with feedback from smart energy monitors in the longer term. Energy Policy, 52, 126-134.
Laitner, J. A., John, A., Ehrhardt-Martinez, K., & Knight, C. P. (2009). The climate imperative and innovative behavior: encouraging greater advances in the production of energy-efficient technologies and services.
Lawson, D. F., Stevenson, K. T., Peterson, M. N., Carrier, S. J., Seekamp, E., & Strnad, R. (2019). Evaluating climate change behaviors and concern in the family context. Environmental Education Research, 25(5), 678-690.
U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2020a. Energy and the environment explained. Where greenhouse gases come from.
U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2020b. Electricity explained. Use of electricity.


Our study aims to understand the effect of child-centered electricity reduction programs on parental behavioral change and, consequently, on household electricity consumption.

This five-week experiment (Dial Down Challenge) addresses the question of how households receive and make sense of technical information about electricity consumption, and how this knowledge is applied to promote electricity conservation behaviors and actions.


Achieving California’s emissions reduction target will require more than technological change. Electricity demand is expected to continue increasing despite advances and availability of efficient technologies, so creating pathways to educate and engage consumers and drive measurable change in energy usage across 13 million diverse households is an immediate need.
This experiment aims to empower children to act as energy conservation stewards within their households. The interactive teaching module is accessible on mobile devices and provides households with information about energy use at the appliance level, energy conservation strategies, as well as tools and tactics that they can use to influence their families to conserve energy.
This initiative can easily scale up in California and beyond. The module will be available for free and the persuasion strategies will be tailored to address different types of households. This module has therefore the capacity to reach a large variety of households, including those in disadvantaged communities.


We intend to publish the results in academic journals.
The experiment is currently participating for additional funding with the purpose to scale up, reaching out 100 schools across the Los Angeles Metro Region to engage a larger group of future energy stewards. Ideally, the self-standing platform will allow the project to expand on its own with minimal intervention or oversight.




Every family with a child enrolled at the Upper I and Upper II classrooms at the Lab School is invited to participate.
The parents/guardians of these children are expected to participate and are associated with each individual student, not all guardians of a household are required to participate (as long as one adult is participating). There is no exclusion criteria.


Using a randomized control trial, we test the efficacy of students as agents of change within their households. The dependent variables include electricity consumption, knowledge about electricity consumption, attitudes toward energy efficiency, and engagement with the online platform. We control for demographics (income, education attainment, ethnicity, size of home, household size) and weather. Testing the behavioral response to electricity reduction messages provided through family members (children) compared to other sources of information can help enhance our understanding of how the delivery of this information influences the resulting behavior.

Recruitment. Parents will receive invitations via e-mail and flyers (backpack notes). The e-mail invitation is a short paragraph inviting parents to sign up for the Dial Down Challenge. The paragraph includes a link to the Consent form, which includes a detailed description of the experiment (see Family Consent Form).

Consent. Informed consent will be requested directly from each adult participant (parent, guardian, or caregiver) before their incorporation into the research. If parent/guardian consents to participate, the consent form requests the parent or guardian’s e-mail. Only after parental consent, assent from the teenager/student participants is requested and the child's email is collected via the same form. Consent forms will be available in English and Spanish.

Assignment to condition. Participant assignment to treatment will occur at the classroom-level. At the Lab School, we anticipate that three of the Upper I and Upper II classrooms will be randomly assigned to the Treatment arm and two will be randomly assigned to the Control arm. The treatment group consists of children and parents/guardians working together; the control group consists of only parents/guardians participating in the activity (without the participation of their children). Both groups receive the same information regarding the activities in different formats (see attached Compilation of surveys and activities)

Intervention. The intervention lasts five weeks. Once participants sign up at the Dial Down Challenge website, they must complete the following activities (see attached Compilation of surveys and activities):

Week 1: Pre-survey, Refrigerator and A/C Thermostat setting activity, Weekly checklist.
Week 2: Energy in the kitchen activity, Weekly checklist.
Week 3: Shower better activity, Weekly checklist.
Week 4: Creative activity, Weekly checklist.
Week 5: Recruitment activity, Weekly checklist. Exit survey.

Participants will receive a follow-up e-mail one month after the end of the intervention requesting them to upload their most recent utility bill (gas and electricity, also note, LADWP bills are bi-monthly), to see if the activities had any impact on energy consumption.

None of these activities collects sensitive information that could affect the participants. The Dial Down Challenge website is a public platform, but the teachers have access to a password-only section where they can track their classroom's progress while remaining private.

Data collection. Parent/guardian and student survey data will be collected through online surveys on Qualtrics Survey Software, distributed via email, and also available on the experiment’s website. Each weekly activity (listed above) is accompanied by a short survey. Participants receive instructions to complete the activity on Mondays and have the full week to complete it. On Saturdays, they receive a weekly checklist to track the activities they are more or least consistent with. The previous week's progress report will be provided to teachers so they can guide an in-class discussion with the participating classrooms. This information is presented in a chart with group progress (not individual) at the classroom level and at the school level. Participants can see how other classrooms are doing, and guiding questions are provided for teachers to engage in in-classroom discussion. The research team will observe the weekly check-in (in person or via zoom) to take notes.
All data will be collected over the duration of the experiment. The entry survey and the exit survey request participants to upload their utility bills to track changes in electricity consumption during the experiment.
Families and students who did not consent will still be part of classroom activities and discussions - we will only collect data from those who consent/assent.


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Weekly activities (self-guided, online) to adopt energy-saving behaviors at home


(Please see attached Compilation of surveys and activities)

Week 1: Pre-survey, Refrigerator and A/C Thermostat setting activity, Weekly checklist.
Right after receiving consent to participate, families receive an entry survey to collect baseline information. This survey must be completed by one parent/guardian and the student enrolled in the school, separately.
In the first week participants receive self-guided instructions (online) to adjust their thermostat and refrigerator settings. Participants are expected to complete this activity before moving into the consecutive one. At the end of the week, they receive a weekly checklist (online survey) for them to mark what activities have they completed and their insights.
Week 2: Energy in the kitchen activity, Weekly checklist.
In the second week participants receive instructions to complete a family dinner while learning how to use their kitchen appliances more efficiently. At the end of the week, they receive the same weekly checklist as week 1.
Week 3: Shower better activity, Weekly checklist.
In the third week participants receive instructions to reduce their shower time. At the end of the week, they receive the same weekly checklist as week 2.
Week 4: Creative activity, Weekly checklist.
In the fourth week participants are prompted to do a creative project to reflect on what they have learned through the Dial Down Challenge. At the end of the week, they receive the same weekly checklist as week 3.
Week 5: Recruitment activity, Exit survey.
In the fifth week participants are asked to explain the Dial Down Challenge to friends and colleagues and get three people to enroll. At the end of the week, they receive the same weekly checklist as week 3; and the Exit survey.
Depending on the date the first bill was dated, we will send a follow-up email asking for participants to upload their new utility bills (the most recent after the end of the experiment) to see if the activities had any impact on energy consumption.


The goal of the research is to understand if children are effective at changing household behaviors about electricity consumption. Children typically bring new knowledge (what they learn at school) to home. Through this experiment, children will have the ability to discuss this new knowledge with their family members and instruct them how to change their behaviors, consequently reducing electricity consumption. This is an experiment that can only take place at home, even when the information is obtained through the online platform.


We request informed consent from parents, and assent from students.


There are no risks associated with this study.




The identifiable data consists of participants' addresses, email addresses, and electric utility account numbers. To protect participants' identities, these identifiers will be coded and then removed from the dataset as soon as the responses are collected. The data will be stored in a secure network server. After the study is completed, the data files will be stripped of personal identifiers and the key to the code will be destroyed.



The research team has been in communication and collaboration with current Upper Level I and Upper Level II instructors (Rebecca Heinese, Arlen Vidal-Castro, Aisha Marshall, Adriana Sheinbaum and Julie Kern). During the Spring semester of 2021 the researchers informally presented some research-related information to both groups of students, and the students participated in related activities, guided by their instructors (not by researchers). Rebecca Heinese incorporated part of the energy efficiency curriculum into her classroom.


The five teachers of the Upper I and Upper II classroom have verbally consented to participate, during a virtual meeting on Monday, 08/23/2021




Energy efficiency, Environmental justice, Equity, Environmental education and conservation


Contact information of enrolled families to obtain consent (e-mails) with classroom identifier.










Yes. 07/07/2021


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