Beyond the Bill: Broad Behavior Change in Yale’s Carbon Charge Pilot Project

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Daniel Esty
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From December 2015 to May 2016, Yale implemented an internal carbon price through its Carbon Charge Project pilot. Though carbon pricing programs had already existed in the public and private sector, Yale was the first university to use this type of financial tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yale undertook the project to provide decision makers with incentives for reducing emissions in buildings across campus, but also as a way to engage students, faculty and staff in energy reduction efforts. Because only a few individuals throughout the university are responsible for paying energy bills, however, the financial incentive of a carbon charge only impacts a small portion of people at Yale. To overcome this challenge, this study investigates how a carbon charge might be leveraged to engage the broader campus community in energy abatement efforts. To that end, this study identifies and evaluates a list of factors that enable pro-environmental behavior. Qualitative data were collected from semi-structured interviews with pilot participants to identify what factors motivated them during the Carbon Charge Project pilot. These findings were synthesized with quantitative data from a survey disseminated to students, faculty and staff across the university asking what factors might motivate them to engage in energy reduction efforts. This study concludes that people at Yale are most motivated to reduce their energy because of an internal concern for the environment, but would be willing to further reduce their consumption if they received decentralized economic incentives, if they received more feedback on their energy use at Yale, and if energy reduction efforts enabled more collaboration. Carbon pricing efforts in other contexts can use these findings from the Yale Carbon Charge Project to devise the most effective methods for engaging behavior change among their own communities of energy consumers.