Topic Resources

Tools Used
Initiated By
  • Researchers Michael S. Pallak, David A. Cook and John J. Sullivan

Households which received a home visit and made a public commitment reduced natural gas and electricity usage by 10 percent to 20 percent.

Iowa City

To influence households to reduce natural gas and electricity use, 20-minute home visits were conducted in which conservation strategies were explained, people were asked to participate, and a commitment to participate was requested.


In 1973, Pallak, Cook and Sullivan initiated a program in Iowa City to encourage people to minimize their consumption of natural gas and electricity by requesting that they make a public commitment to do so. From a literature review of previous studies the researchers had determined that individuals who made a public commitment to a specific action were more likely to carry out the action than those who made a private commitment.

Delivering the Program

A second group of participants received the standard visits and were asked to make a verbal commitment, but were assured of anonymity. A third (control) group did not receive the in-home visit, nor were they asked to make a commitment.

Meter readings were collected by the local utility company and evaluated by Pallak, Cook and Sullivan. Consumption of electricity and natural gas for participating households was initially tracked for a one-month period. In order to determine whether changes in consumption levels would persist over time or whether they were only a result of "energy conscious" behaviour for a few days after the home visit, the meter readings were tracked for a full 12-month period.

Measuring Achievements

Participating households received an initial 20-minute home visit during which energy conservation strategies were explained (Home Visits). During this visit, residents were asked to participate in a month-long program to determine whether they could reduce their energy consumption through personal efforts. A verbal commitment to participate was requested, and residents were told that the results of the study would be publicized along with the names of participants (Obtaining a Commitment).

At the end of the first month, participants were sent a brief letter stating that the project was finished, and had been successful in saving energy and that participants would no longer be publicly identified.


At the end of the first month of the program, the results showed that participants who had made a public commitment had reduced their natural gas and electricity consumption by between 10 percent and 20 percent. There was no significant change in energy consumption for the group which made a private commitment.

Interestingly, participants who made a public commitment continued to consume less electricity and natural gas, even though they had been told that the study had concluded after one month, and that their names would not be publicized.

From: Pallak, M.S., D.A. Cook and J.J. Sullivan (1980). "Commitment and Energy Conservation." In L. Bickman (ed.), Applied Social Psychology Annual 235-253, Beverley Hills, CA: Sage.


 This case study was originally published in 1998 in "Tools of Change: Proven Methods for Promoting Environmental Citizenship" by Jay Kassirer and Doug McKenzie-Mohr (Published by Canada's National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy)

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