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A Pilot Study of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan

"...those of us who call ourselves energy analysts have made a mistake...we have analyzed energy. We should have analyzed human behavior." (Cherfas quoting Schipper in Science, 1991)

"While research and policy informed by the physical-technical-economic model largely displaces human actors from the energy system, the many studies of conservation suggest that individual behavior and social processes should be central, controlling, and dynamic." (Lutzenhiser, 1993)

In light of rapidly rising utility costs in UM buildings and a concern for issues related to global warming, UM’s central administration asked ISR to design and implement a study aimed at understanding the behavioral aspects of energy conservation and sustainability. The aim of the study would be to understand the thoughts and actions of current members of the university community and to assess current university efforts at reducing energy costs in buildings. Specifically, three key policy questions would be addressed.

  • How effective are current policies and implementation strategies in achieving the goal of cost reduction?
  • Should the same set of policies be applied across campus? To all members of the UM community?
  • Should implementation strategies be applied uniformly in all settings within the university?

The intent of the study was to provide policy makers involved in cost reduction efforts with new information that would inform their decision making. At the same time, the information would be shared widely with others in the university community.

Rather that conduct a study covering all buildings within UM, the decision was made to do a pilot study covering a limited number of buildings on campus. Two buildings containing classrooms and laboratories were selected (Chemistry and Space Research) along with two buildings containing primarily faculty and staff offices (ISR and Rackham). A fifth building containing administrative offices was subsequently added to the pilot study (Fleming).