Energy efficiency:many national differences in consumer behaviours

Is there a difference between French, English, German and American citizens regarding energy efficiency? At the request of Rexel, Harris Interactive has conducted a survey on the topic of energy efficiency in four western countries: France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States. When it comes to performing everyday actions to limit their energy consumption at home, the Germans report being relatively more dedicated than the French or British, whereas the Americans seem to be significantly less so.

In all the countries included in the survey, the respondents considered that, first and foremost, citizens have a role to play in encouraging energy efficiency, ahead of energy producers and distributors, manufacturers of electrical equipment and the public authorities

In each of the 4 countries, certain of the stakeholders are unanimously identified as being important for the encouragement of energy efficiency: consumers, i.e. citizens, are considered “important” by more than nine respondents out of ten (between 91% and 93% depending on the country), while the producers and distributors of energy (88% to 93%) and manufacturers of electrical equipment (88% to 93%) are also identified as major stakeholders when it comes to encouraging energy efficiency. It should be noted that more than two thirds of Britons go so far as to consider that these latter two stakeholders have a “very important” role to play (66% and 70% respectively, compared to 50-60% in the other countries). Other stakeholders are considered to be important by most respondents: architects/developers (between 87% and 91% “important” depending on the country), corporations (between 85% and 89%), installers/electricians (between 81% and 86%), and distributors of electrical supplies (between 75% and 89%).

Despite this, some major national differences exist. Thus, a large majority of people consider the role of the State to be important in France, the United Kingdom and Germany (88%, 91% and 87% respectively), whereas this is less the case in the United States where the national government (Federal Government: 76%, including only 45% “very important”) is perceived as slightly less important than the individual state governments (State: 78%) – whereas the Germans accord a little more importance to the national government (Bundesregierung: 87%) than to the individual state governments (Land: 84%). Furthermore, Americans do not accord as high a level of importance to local authorities (71% “important” in the United States compared to 86% to 89% in the other countries; and only 31% “very important” compared to 54% in the United Kingdom and 47% in France), consumer associations (76%, compared to 81% to 83% in the other countries) NGOs (60%, compared to 67% to 74%) or the United Nations (54%, compared to 62% to 73%). For their part, the Germans represent an exception with regard to the lesser level of importance they attribute to certain stakeholders: specialized (65%, compared to 74% to 83%) or general big box stores (57%, compared to 70% to 79%). As can be seen, while respondents in all countries are united that the consumer has an important role to play at the end of the distribution process, European countries place more emphasis on the importance of the public authorities, whereas the United States tend to stress the responsibilities of private stakeholders a little more.

To limit the amount of energy they consume in their homes, Germans say that they more frequently employ small everyday energy-saving actions, whereas British and Americans seem to think more in terms of large-scale investments in their dwellings

When individuals are asked about the practices which they adopt in order to reduce electricity consumption in their homes, stronger differences can be observed between the countries included in the survey. Thus, overall, the Germans report performing far more small actions to help them improve their energy efficiency: more than two thirds of Germans said that they performed almost all the listed actions. In contrast, Americans say that they perform these actions less often and are not always prepared to do so in the future. The French and British are located between these two positions. While more people say they use low-consumption light bulbs in France and the United Kingdom (80% and 81% respectively, compared to 71% in Germany and 69% in the United States), the Germans are the most likely to report filling their washing machines before starting them (79% in Germany and 78% in France, compared to 65% in the United Kingdom and only 52% in the United States), using power strips with a switch (77% in Germany compared to 72% in France and 64% in the United States, and only 31% in the United Kingdom), covering cooking pots so that the water boils faster (83% in Germany, between 61% and 70% in the other countries), switching off appliances rather than setting them to stand-by (70% in Germany and the United Kingdom, 66% in France and only 56% in the United States). While the Americans are those who most frequently report lowering the heating or air-conditioning in their dwellings by a degree (71%, compared to 61% to 69% in the other countries) – an action which undoubtedly relates more to heating than air-conditioning which is very widespread in the United States –, few of them, in contrast, claim to defrost their freezers and refrigerators regularly (33%, compared to 55% to 62% in the other countries) or switch off stoves and ovens a few minutes before finishing cooking (38%, compared to 43% in the United Kingdom, 48% in France and 71% in Germany).

The inhabitants of all four countries favor two types of investment: domestic appliances offering low energy consumption (between 88% and 93% have already invested in this type of equipment) and the installation of double-pane windows (71% in Germany, between 83% and 90% in the other countries). It can be noted that the inhabitants of both the United Kingdom and United States say that they are more prepared to invest in their homes than do the inhabitants of the other countries.

However, these results require some interpretation. The inhabitant’s intention to make various investments may depend on financial elicitation, level of information, state of the market, housing type… In fact, the structure of the built environment in the relevant countries may have a serious impact. For instance, the United Kingdom and the United States have a very high proportion of home owners: approximately 70% in the United States and United Kingdom, compared to only 60% in France and a level of less than 50% in Germany. The reason why Germans are apparently unwilling to invest in their homes, despite the fact that they head the list in terms of everyday actions to achieve energy efficiency, may partly be due to the limited room for maneuver available to most tenants.

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