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Consumers Keen on Energy Codes, According to Survey by Bentley University Students
A group of Bentley University students teamed up with nonprofits Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and Consumers Union (CU) to survey consumer perceptions of energy codes, which are minimum requirements that builders must meet in order to ensure that homes comply with energy efficiency standards. In April 2012, the students traveled to Capitol Hill to present their research findings to key decision makers and groups in Washington, including staffers from the offices of Senator John Kerry (MA), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Senator Scott Brown (MA) and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as Senator Jon Tester (MT) himself.
Key survey findings included:
- Over 90% of all respondents in our survey “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that:
- Disclosure of a home’s energy usage would enable them to make an informed decision about a new home purchase
- Homebuilders should make more efficient homes to benefit consumers
- Energy codes should be enforced like other safety and quality standards of construction
- However, 43% of all respondents were unfamiliar with energy codes prior to their receiving the definition of “energy codes” stated above.
- 90% of homeowners surveyed agree that energy codes reduce their homes’ operating costs. Therefore, it is evident that consumer demand for energy efficient homes is a growing trend in the United States as energy costs continue to rise.
- Industry experts are convinced that market-based solutions are the most effective in promoting residential energy efficiency.
- However, energy code officials and industry members expressed concern that energy literacy is a major barrier to supporting these market based solutions.
- Industry experts – including planners, contractors, and code officials – are in agreement that additional education and training would be beneficial to the navigation of current energy codes.
Recommendation to policymakers:
- Support Department of Energy programs in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy that provide training and education for stakeholders involved in home construction.
The project was part of a fourth-credit service-learning option for a Federal Environmental and Natural Resource Policy course taught by Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences David Szymanski, a former congressional fellow and science policy advisor to US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). The five participating students included senior Spencer Smitherman (Shreveport, LA), sophomore Shayna Pedersen (Burlington, MA), junior Alexis Lawlor (Wayne, New Jersey), sophomore Veronica Santos (Santo Domingo, DR) and sophomore Meghan Ryan (Wilmington, MA). The team brought skills from a variety of business majors, from accounting and managerial economics to marketing and management. Three of the students (Lawlor, Pedersen and Santos) are also completing Liberal Studies Majors in Earth, Environment, and Global Sustainability (EEGS).
“This type of research at the intersection of policy, business, and the science of sustainability is win-win in many respects,” Szymanski notes. “The goal of the project is to get students involved in national policy by performing non-partisan, civic service, all while learning how science policy is made.”
The students researched and developed an interview questionnaire that gathered quantitative data from homeowners and general consumers, building upon a 2011 nationwide survey by Consumers Union (CU), with a focus on the Greater Boston/New England area. They aimed to gauge how policymakers can help provide resources to educate industry professionals on navigating energy codes, ultimately reducing market barriers to meeting consumer demand for energy efficiency in residential housing.
Carol Werner, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, said, “The students’ survey verifies for policymakers how valuable energy codes are to consumers – they are a low cost way to have a very large, beneficial impact for consumers and innovation in our building sector. This reinforces the need for policymakers to fund education and training on energy codes for building retrofits as well as new buildings through the U.S. Department of Energy. This is a small investment that ultimately will have enormous payoffs for their constituents.”
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute is an independent 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that advances innovative policy solutions that set us on a cleaner, more secure and sustainable energy path. Established by a bipartisan Congressional caucus in 1984, EESI was established to provide policymaker education, to develop innovative policy solutions to energy and environmental problems, and to build policy consensus among a broad range of constituencies. As part of this policy development work, EESI holds more than 20 Congressional briefings a year on science, policy and technology issues before the Congress, and also publishes a variety of electronic newsletters and other publications. EESI is not funded by the Congress.
About Consumers Union
Consumers Union (CU) is an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. The organization was founded in 1936 when advertising first flooded the mass media. Consumers lacked a reliable source of information they could depend on to help them distinguish hype from fact and good products from bad ones. Since then CU has filled that vacuum with a broad range of consumer information. To maintain its independence and impartiality, CU accepts no outside advertising and no free samples and employs several hundred mystery shoppers and technical experts to buy and test the products it evaluates.
The Yawkey Foundations have recognized Bentley University’s longstanding commitment to service-learning and awarded the university $500,000 to educate students to effectively lead nonprofit organizations and expand student efforts to help community groups.