The American Psychological Association created a task force on psychology and global climate change. The draft report includes some interesting findings about the importance of immediate feedback of energy use, which might be provided by mobile information technologies like iPhone.
Here’s an excerpt on why (and what kind of) information matters
Studies generally find that information techniques increase knowledge but have minimal effects on behavior. However, immediate or frequent (e.g., daily) energy-use feedback has yielded energy savings of 5-12% in homes, often lasting 6 months or more (Fischer, Greitemeyer, & Frey, 2008). This kind of information is believed to be more effective because it is specific to the individual’s situation and is conducive for learning how to achieve the savings. The behavioral psychologists who pioneered feedback research in the 1970s (Geller et al., 1982) emphasized that it links the financial consequences of energy use more closely to behavior by showing the costs immediately or daily, rather than via the delayed consequences represented in a monthly energy bill. The fact that feedback effects are observed very quickly suggests that they are achieved by changes in the use of household equipment rather than by the adoption of more energy-efficient equipment.
Here’s another quote regarding the design aspects of IT for environmental sustainability:
So-called smart meters are being designed mainly to meet needs of energy supply companies, but they could also provide very valuable energy-use feedback to consumers if they had the appropriate displays and human factors design. Zero-energy buildings are now being developed and tested for their engineering characteristics, but if they are to approach their technical potential, they need to be designed so that occupants will not counteract the engineering, as many households now do with programmable thermostats. Similar issues arise with the design of “green” communities, if they are ever to become attractive to more than committed environmentalists. Psychology can help with these design issues, which require an interdisciplinary approach for optimal effect.