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Promoting behavioral change towards lower energy consumption in the building sector

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Climate change and environmental issues have been increasingly in the forefront of the media and government agendas. However, despite much discussion and fanfare, little has been done in the way of serious commitment and clear course of actions since the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 to bring carbon emissions to sustainable levels. To tackle the immensity of the climate change challenge, a paradigm shift in understanding is necessary to balance the course of global human development with energy demand and consumption patterns. Accounting for over 40% of global energy demand and more than 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, the building sector offers the greatest mitigation potential for reducing carbon emissions in both the short and long term, with positive implications for a range of associated sectors and industries. Promoting behavioral change among end-users for reduced energy consumption as well as encouraging the building industry to embrace sustainable design, low-carbon construction practices and materials, and renewable technologies, is fundamental to mitigating the impact of the built environment on planetary biospheres and preserving quality of life for generations to come. This paper starts by drawing attention to the building sector and related EU policy, outlining the challenges and opportunities for reducing energy consumption and carbon emission levels. Such policy provides the essential framework to engage stakeholders and allow supporting factors to foster progress in the sector. The paper contends that information on climate change has not led to significant improvements in meeting global targets and that what is needed is behavioral change among individuals and society as a whole. On the basis of research project experiences and literature review, it puts forth and explores five key elements contributing to behavioral change for reduced energy consumption and lower carbon emissions in the building sector, focused on: information and education; financial incentives and energy services; modern technologies and sustainable design; social and community norms; and biophilia (contact with the natural environment). The paper suggests opportunities for further research and concludes with recommendations for policy-makers and related stakeholders.
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Keywords: EU Buildings Directive; behavioral change; biophilia; building sector; environmental consciousness; low-carbon lifestyle

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Interdisciplinary Centre for Comparative Research in the Social Sciences, Vienna, Austria

Publication date: 01 March 2011

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