When kids learn to conserve energy, parents learn too

By Jodi Delapaz

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WASHINGTON, July 21, 2016 - The energy-saving behavior of children who participated in an energy conservation program continued after the program ended, and the behavior also spread to their parents, says a team of researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) and Stanford University.

The Girls Learning Environment and Energy (GLEE) program provided two energy-saving “interventions” designed to promote energy-saving behaviors either at home or in food and transportation decisions. Some 318 fourth- and fifth-grade girls from Girl Scout troops in northern California took part in the study, recently published in the journal Nature Energy.

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The program's designers utilized best practices from social cognitive theory and public health interventions to guide the program's design, recognizing the importance of making projects fun and engaging. The researchers say that the program's goal was to get the girls actively practicing and mastering skills and modeling behaviors that would lead to reduced energy use.

The study found that the children's increased energy-saving behavior, such as turning off power strips at night and washing clothes in cold water, continued for more than seven months after the trial program ended - and the parents' energy-saving behavior continued for more than eight months.

Hilary Boudet, an assistant professor of climate change and energy at Oregon State and the paper's lead author, says the findings suggest that these kinds of educational programs could have a significant and lasting impact on family energy consumption.

“Children are a critical audience for environmental programs, because their current behavior likely predicts future behavior,” says Boudet, who teaches in the School of Public Policy at OSU's College of Liberal Arts. “By adopting energy-saving behaviors now and engaging family and community members in such efforts, children can play an important role in bringing about a more sustainable future.”

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The reported behavior changes associated with the home energy program represent an annual household energy savings of approximately 3-5 percent immediately following the intervention and 1-3 percent at follow-up, say the study's authors. The researchers note that those savings become quite significant if magnified across the population.

Based on GLEE's initial success, the team is working to disseminate the curriculum to Girl Scout leaders around the country. They also hope to adapt the program for other groups, including schools and youth-focused organizations such as 4-H.

The study was supported by grants from the Energy Department, the California Energy Commission, the Child Health Research Institute and the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center.

For more information about the GLEE program, click here.  

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