This post was contributed by Cathy DuBois, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Management at Kent State University.

The third annual Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference was held in Washington, D. C. from November 15-18, 2009. The focus of this conference was the critical role of behavior and decision making in accelerating our transition to an energy-efficient and low-carbon future.

In both formal and informal sessions participants discussed the application of principles from behavioral economics, individual differences and attitude theory, and community-based social marketing to influence sustainability-related actions in a range of settings.  Participants shared successes and current challenges regarding organizational initiatives, and proposed agendas for future research and practice.

This conference was a terrific way to meet and learn from people who are involved in a wide array of research and programs aimed at the next frontier in sustainability: getting people to change their behavior.

Technology has and will continue to make a significant impact on energy savings, and improved technology is becoming more affordable and accessible every month. However, there will always be a choice component to human behavior that technology cannot address: whether or not to put an object into a recycling or compost bin; walk or drive; turn off / unplug equipment that is not in use; eat local foods; suggest to one’s employer ways to get work done while using less energy… the list is endless. The cumulative impact of behavioral choices can create a 20-30% additional savings in energy usage, given current technology.

My research at Kent State University focuses on the role of organizational leaders and the human resource function in implementing organizational practices that support desired behaviors. I presented a paper at the conference, “What’s in it for me? Motivating environmentally sustainable behavior in organizations.” The thesis of this paper is that organizations can’t specify and regulate all behavior; therefore, they need to find creative ways to inspire employees to ‘own’ the notion of sustainable behavior.

My research also focuses on the job of sustainability coordinators and managers. Because the first wave of ‘going green’ has focused on technology, most incumbents in this job have a technical background. However, getting employees on board with organizational sustainability initiatives requires significant organizational change and development efforts, which require a set of knowledge, skills and experiences that support social design, rather than technical design.

Through the research, we will review job descriptions and interview sustainability coordinators and managers to learn about their challenges and competency gaps. We expect that this process will also bring to light challenges related to organizational structure, resources, and accountabilities for this job.

Our goal with this research is to create more effective positioning for sustainability managers and coordinators, as well as improved job design and more effective hiring practices. This topic merits attention because it is the focal point of organizational sustainability initiatives. Increasing effectiveness here should cascade across the organization to the bottom line.

I welcome all inquiries related to my research!

Cathy L. Z. DuBois, Ph.D.

Management & Information Systems Department, Graduate School of Management, Kent State University

*Note: The BECC conference was sponsored by The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC), and the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE).