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Friends of the Behavioral Economics Blog, this week we present the paper “How does information on environmental emissions influence appliance choice? The role of values and perceived environmental impacts”, by He, S.; Blasch, J. and van Beukering, P. (2022), in which authors carry out a study to know how the fact of having information about the environmental impact generated by our actions affects our appliance choice. 

Private residences account for 27% of total electricity consumption worldwide. The main uses of this percentage of electricity are heating, household appliances, water heating, space cooling, cooking and lighting. 

In the context of the European Union, household appliances and electrical appliances that are responsible for performing these functions, mostly have an energy label that follows a specific framework created by the EU.

With this labeling, the EU aims to provide clear and simple information on energy-related products, so that consumers can make informed choices and, consequently, reduce their energy bills while contributing to mitigating climate change. 

To this end, public authorities and academics have made efforts to provide real and constantly improving information on energy labels. 

One of the many ideas behind this labeling is that one of the best ways to encourage investment in energy efficiency is to directly communicate the link between energy efficiency and carbon emissions. According to the knowledge deficit model, individuals may have a reluctance to engage in pro-environmental behavior due to a lack of knowledge about a specific environmental problem, or about ways to address it. 

Providing information on environmental emissions is one way to fight the knowledge deficit, as it establishes a direct link between energy efficiency and environmental impact and may facilitate individual efficiency investment decisions. 

Most existing studies demonstrate a positive impact of environmental signals (such as labels) on the adoption of energy efficient devices, although the effectiveness varies between individuals. 

However, previous studies on energy labeling have rarely investigated the psychological factors of individuals that produce this variability in label effectiveness. As research in environmental psychology suggests, the way individuals process environmental information may also be affected by the individual’s values. These values reflect the individual’s overall goal in life and may affect information processing, as well as influence whether individuals pay more or less attention to environmental information, and how they interpret it. 

Personal experiences, such as experiences in extreme weather conditions, can lead to a high level of risk perception and concern, ultimately resulting in pro-environmental behaviors. Theoretically, having experienced adverse environmental events suggests psychological proximity between the problem and the individual, which may increase the likelihood of supporting climate change mitigation and taking action. However, the empirical evidence is inconclusive. 

To investigate the effectiveness of energy labels, authors conducted an online questionnaire to nearly 1,000 subjects.

Overall, the results reported no significant effects on environmental emissions from the labels. However, providing information on carbon emissions may potentially encourage investment in energy efficiency among individuals with relatively high environmental values who are concerned about climate change. 

Additionally, authors found that providing information on carbon emissions along with other pollutant emissions may increase the likelihood of choosing more efficient appliances among individuals with high environmental awareness. 

However, information on carbon emissions alone does not show significant effects. It would seem that it would be the attitudes and energy saving habits of individuals that would contribute most to energy efficiency decisions. 

Encouraging investment in energy efficient appliances and providing information on air pollutants may be useful strategies when individuals intentionally seek detailed information on which appliances to purchase. 

It is worth noting that authors conducted their study in the context of the Netherlands, where residents are relatively aware of the problems associated with climate change, but are not highly concerned about air pollution, so they encourage other experts to conduct studies in different contexts where the findings may differ. 

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