OECD Environment Working Papers

1997-0900 (en ligne)
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This series is designed to make available to a wider readership selected studies on environmental issues prepared for use within the OECD. Authorship is usually collective, but principal authors are named. The papers are generally available only in their original language English or French with a summary in the other if available.

Testing the Effect of Defaults on the Thermostat Settings of OECD Employees You or your institution have access to this content

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Zack Brown1, Nick Johnstone1, Ivan Haščič1, Laura Vong1, Francis Barascud1
Author Affiliations
  • 1: OCDE, France

05 déc 2012
Bibliographic information

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Default options have been shown to affect behaviour in a variety of economic choice tasks, including health care and retirement savings. Less research has tested whether defaults affect behaviour in the domain of energy efficiency. This study uses data from a randomized controlled experiment in which the default settings on office thermostats in an OECD office building were manipulated during the winter heating season, and employees’ chosen thermostat setting observed over a 6 week period. Using difference-in-differences, panel, and censored regression models (to control for maximum allowable thermostat settings), we find that a 1°C decrease in the default caused a reduction in the chosen setting by 0.38°C on average. Sixty-five percent of this effect could be attributed to office occupant behaviour (p-value=0.044). The difference-in-differences model shows that small decreases in the default (1°) led to a greater reduction in chosen settings than large decreases (2°). We also find that office occupants who are more apt to adjust their thermostats prior to the intervention were less susceptible to the default. We find no evidence that offices with multiple occupants displayed different patterns in thermostat choices than single-occupant offices. We conclude that this kind of intervention can increase building-level energy efficiency, and discuss potential explanations and broader policy implications of our findings.
behavioural economics, energy efficiency, field experiments
Classification JEL:
  • B5: History of Economic Thought, Methodology, and Heterodox Approaches / Current Heterodox Approaches
  • C1: Mathematical and Quantitative Methods / Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General
  • C9: Mathematical and Quantitative Methods / Design of Experiments
  • H3: Public Economics / Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents
  • Q4: Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics / Energy