Social and Environmental Research Institute

South Amherst, MA, United States

Social and Environmental Research Institute

South Amherst, MA, United States
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News Article | August 24, 2016

A few weeks ago we discussed differences between solar "considerers" and solar adopters, highlighting the range of reasons that the majority of people who consider solar have yet to adopt it. The findings stemmed from a comprehensive study funded by the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, led by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Among the key barriers to adoption are uncertainties around the costs and benefits of solar. Prospective customers often need extensive validation of the promises of rooftop solar, especially since it is a large investment and cannot be “test-driven” before signing. Arguably, the best validation of the benefits of solar is a satisfied solar adopter -- part of the reason why referrals remain the most cost-effective means to acquire new customers. According to our survey of 1,662 solar adopters, most customers seem satisfied with both their solar power systems and their installers. We conducted a net promoter score (NPS) analysis, which measures customer loyalty based on the relative percentages of solar “promoters” and “detractors” (dissatisfied customers).[1] We asked survey respondents: a) how likely they are to recommend solar panels and b) how likely they are to recommend their installers. We found that the average NPS for solar panels is 63 and the average NPS for solar installers is 52. A score of 50 or above is widely considered excellent (Figure 1). Rooftop solar seems to elicit high levels of satisfaction as compared to established consumer industries. Tracking customer satisfaction over time could provide interesting insight on whether those scores change and, if so, why. However, customers were more likely to recommend solar panels than their installers by 9 percentage points, suggesting that there is room for improvement. The DOE study helps illuminate the factors influencing customer satisfaction with rooftop solar, insights that may prove helpful as the industry grows and matures. Solar promoters and detractors are, demographically, very similar (Figure 2). Promoters tend to be more financially comfortable, educated and left-leaning, yet the differences are minimal, suggesting that customer satisfaction is more about the customer experience or attitudinal factors than customer demographics. While all customers were at least partially motivated by saving money, promoters seemed more motivated by non-economic reasons (Figure 3). They were about 19 percent more likely to report that using renewable energy was a very important factor in their decision to go solar.  It is plausible that realizing these additional, non-financial rewards might have boosted the satisfaction of going solar. Figure 3: How Different Factors Influence Customers’ Consideration of Rooftop Solar Overall, both promoters and non-promoters faced only slight challenges with the potential difficulties we asked about (Figure 4). Promoters and detractors, essentially, had the same type of difficulties in going solar -- finding the right installer, reaching household consensus, having a home suitable for solar, etc. Promoters reported slightly lower levels of difficulty across the board. Despite facing similar difficulties, promoters had a significantly better experience during and after the solar installation across each of metrics we evaluated (Figure 5). To be sure, non-promoters generally had a good experience, with most agreeing or strongly agreeing that their “installation went smoothly” or that they “haven’t had problems” with their roof, though they were less happy with the appearance of the systems and how quickly the installation occurred. Figure 5: Customers’ Experience During and After a Solar Installation The biggest factor influencing satisfaction is whether or not customers felt they got the economic savings they expected (Figure 6). Satisfied customers were about 18 percent more likely to report that the economic performance of their system met or exceeded their expectations. Intuitively, this makes sense, because economic considerations were the primary drivers customers reported in having influenced their decision to go solar (Figure 3). Customer dissatisfaction is common when products or services under-deliver on the benefits customers want the most. What is unclear is whether satisfaction was driven more by objectively meaningful savings or by installers properly setting savings expectations, which could be the subject of future research. Figure 6: Customers’ Perception of Actual Savings Relative to Their Expectations Nearly 9 percent of all customers surveyed expressed some regrets about going solar. Common regrets included: not achieving anticipated savings, leasing systems instead of buying, not shopping around for other installers, and learning that the solar array didn’t work during blackouts. Non-promoters were 30 percent more likely to have reported that their interest in solar was prompted by an installer approaching them. These data points suggest that one source of dissatisfaction could have been that customers felt oversold on solar. Promoters were 15 percent more likely to have talked to more than one solar installer. This doesn't necessarily mean that those who shopped around got better deals. Rather, it's possible that the mere act of talking to multiple installers provided these customers more confidence in their purchase decision. A whopping 80 percent of respondents made a referral, and the median number of referrals they provided was three. And of those who expressed regrets about solar (see previous finding), 35 percent were still solar promoters. That is, the overall solar experience seemed positive enough for them to overlook whatever disappointment they encountered. Overall, the survey showed that most adopters are happy with their adoption decision. Net promoter scores show that people are pleased with solar, mostly pleased with their installers, and willing to recommend both to others. However, there are some notable discrepancies between promoters and non-promoters, many of which appear to be specific to installers, rather than solar as a technology. One of the goals of this DOE study was to identify ways to improve the customer experience. Based on the above findings, we’ve developed the following recommendations: The authors are James Tong (CEO, Advanced Grid Consulting), Ben Sigrin (Energy Systems Modeling Engineer, NREL), Eric O'Shaughnessy (Renewable Energy Policy Analyst, NREL), and Alison Mickey (Sr. Dir. Corporate Comms, Spruce Finance). Project contributors included: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, National Renewable Energy Lab, Portland State University, Social and Environmental Research Institute, Spruce Finance, University of Arizona and University of Michigan.

McGreavy B.,Antioch University New England | Webler T.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Calhoun A.J.K.,University of Maine, United States
Journal of Environmental Management | Year: 2012

In this study, we describe local decision maker attitudes towards vernal pools to inform science communication and enhance vernal pool conservation efforts. We conducted interviews with town planning board and conservation commission members (n = 9) from two towns in the State of Maine in the northeastern United States. We then mailed a questionnaire to a stratified random sample of planning board members in August and September 2007 with a response rate of 48.4% (n = 320). The majority of survey respondents favored the protection and conservation of vernal pools in their towns. Decision makers were familiar with the term " vernal pool" and demonstrated positive attitudes to vernal pools in general. General appreciation and willingness to conserve vernal pools predicted support for the 2006 revisions to the Natural Resource Protection Act regulating Significant Vernal Pools. However, 48% of respondents were unaware of this law and neither prior knowledge of the law nor workshop attendance predicted support for the vernal pool law. Further, concerns about private property rights and development restrictions predicted disagreement with the vernal pool law. We conclude that science communication must rely on specific frames of reference, be sensitive to cultural values, and occur in an iterative system to link knowledge and action in support of vernal pool conservation. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

Webler T.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Jakubowski K.,University of New Haven
Biological Conservation | Year: 2016

There is widespread consensus that recreational snorkelers are damaging coral reefs, but the magnitude of the issue is unknown. Loss of reefs jeopardizes tourism, which is a significant economic driver. Recreational snorkeling is a popular activity and yet there has been little research about the behavior of snorkelers at reefs. The authors carried out observations at several reef locations in Puerto Rico to determine the baseline level of snorkeler behavior that threatens coral reefs. From August of 2010 until June 2012, they observed 328 different recreational snorkelers in-water at various reef locations and recorded number and types of potentially damaging behaviors. Snorkelers exhibited 0.26 potentially damaging behaviors per minute. Most were fin kicks (39%) and the next most frequent behavior was sitting, standing or kneeling on the reef (22%). The authors asked a subset of the people who were observed to make self-reports of their behavior, evaluated the accuracy of self-reports, and found that people underreported their potentially harmful behaviors. The authors experimented with a video message and signed pledge to promote proper snorkeling etiquette. From March 2012 until June 2012, snorkelers watched the video and signed the pledge before they boarded a tour operator led excursion. The pledge expressed commitment to specific pro-reef behaviors. Post-treatment in-water observations of 79 different snorkelers found a five-fold reduction in the rate of potentially damaging behaviors. Furthermore, the percentage of snorkelers who never harmed the reef shot up from 65% to 89%. The research suggests the pre-trip messaging together with a written pledge can change behaviors, thus improving the ability of ecotourism operators to help sustain reefs as well as the economic livelihoods of their employees. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd.

Lord F.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Tuler S.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Webler T.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Dow K.,University of South Carolina
Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management | Year: 2012

Technological hazards research, including that on oil spills and their aftermath, is giving greater attention to human dimension impacts resulting from events and response. While oil spill contingency planners recognize the importance of human dimension impacts, little systematic attention is given to them in contingency plans. We introduce an approach to identifying human dimensions impacts using concepts from hazard and vulnerability assessment and apply it to the Bouchard-120 oil spill in Buzzards Bay, MA. Our assessment covers the spill, emergency response, clean-up, damage assessment, and mid-term recovery. This approach, while still exploratory, did demonstrate that the spill produced a range of positive and negative impacts on people and institutions and that these were mediated by vulnerabilities. We suggest ways in which the framework may help spill managers to learn from events and improve contingency planning by anticipating risks to social systems and identifying strategies to reduce impacts. © Imperial College Press.

North D.W.,NorthWorks Inc. | Stern P.C.,National Research Council Italy | Webler T.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Field P.,Consensus Building Institute
Environmental Science and Technology | Year: 2014

Emerging technologies pose particularly strong challenges for risk governance when they have multidimensional and inequitable impacts, when there is scientific uncertainty about the technology and its risks, when there are strong value conflicts over the perceived benefits and risks, when decisions must be made urgently, and when the decision making environment is rife with mistrust. Shale gas development is one such emerging technology. Drawing on previous U.S. National Research Council committee reports that examined risk decision making for complex issues like these, we point to the benefits and challenges of applying the analytic-deliberative process recommened in those reports for stakeholder and public engagement in risk decision making about shale gas development in the United States. We discuss the different phases of such a process and conclude by noting the dangers of allowing controversy to ossify and the benefits of sound dialogue and learning among publics, stakeholders, industry, and regulatory decision makers. © 2014 American Chemical Society.

Webler T.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Tuler S.P.,Social and Environmental Research Institute
Energy Policy | Year: 2010

Achieving the ambitious targets for carbon emissions reductions that are necessary to reduce the risks associated with climate change will require significant changes in the way people use energy. Redesigning energy technologies at a societal level is certainly a major scientific challenge, however, succeeding in this endeavor requires more than getting the engineering right. Technologies can fail to win public approval for a variety of reasons. Good social science research, coordinated properly with technological R&D, is an essential part of the solution. Social science research is needed to: clarify the behavioral changes that can reduce energy consumption; characterize public understandings and concerns of new energy technologies; help overcome barriers to public adoption; maximize the benefits for users; and better understand society's needs and abilities to make energy transitions. We argue that social science research into the human dimensions of new energy technologies be promoted and overseen by a new office of social science research to be established in the United States Department of Energy. The funding levels needed for these endeavors are a tiny fraction of the amount that was allocated to carbon sequestration research in the 2009 stimulus bill. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.

Tuler S.P.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Webler T.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Polsky C.,Clark University
Ocean and Coastal Management | Year: 2013

Fisheries managers are faced with a paucity of both data and tools to assess the socio-economic dimensions of fisheries management. However, Federal law requires fisheries managers to consider social and economic consequences of management plans (i.e., Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 and its amendments). Assessing the potential consequences requires data and analytical tools that address not only multiple species but also multiple stakeholders and sectors of the economy. To help meet these mandates and overcome challenges to their implementation we developed an approach to rapidly and efficiently assemble decision-relevant information. We call this a rapid impact and vulnerability assessment (RIVA). RIVA builds on the concepts of risk and vulnerability to document causal linkages between management interventions (e.g., introduction of new rule) and downstream consequences, whether positive or negative. We illustrate its application and utility with an example from New Bedford, Massachusetts. It can help managers identify the ways individuals and groups within a given fishing community may be differentially impacted and able to respond to reduce harms. Such information can inform managers about how to intervene to mitigate consequences and promote positive forms of responding that do not create further undesirable ecological and social consequences. By being sensitive to agency resource constraints, the framework enables the rapid gathering of information in contrast to more traditional and large-scale social impact assessment or vulnerability assessment methods. A systematic application of this framework can facilitate learning and long-term policy making by guiding routine gathering of social, economic, and cultural data and identifying critical knowledge gaps and uncertainties. After illustrating the application of RIVA we discuss both its strengths and weaknesses. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

Webler T.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Tuler S.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Dietz T.,Michigan State University
Environmental Policy and Governance | Year: 2011

Nitrogen loading models are often designed and built without any input from decision-makers. Better understanding and communication between modellers and decision-makers would improve the usefulness of models. In interviews with 16 modellers and outreach professionals in southern New England, USA, we inquired about how nitrogen-loading models should be designed and used in local decision-making. Qualitative analysis revealed several insights about: differences between models intended to advance science and those to advance policy-making; matching the scale of the model with that of the decision; the danger that models might promote technocracy; how to present uncertainty information; ecological transferability and social acceptance of models to new locales; involvement of local decision-makers and citizens in the design of models; and the use of models by lay decision-makers. The findings highlight both opportunities and obstacles to the use of models in local policy-making. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.

Doherty K.L.,Antioch University New England | Doherty K.L.,Social and Environmental Research Institute | Webler T.N.,Social and Environmental Research Institute
Nature Climate Change | Year: 2016

Surprisingly few individuals who are highly concerned about climate change take action to influence public policies. To assess social-psychological and cognitive drivers of public-sphere climate actions of Global Warming's Six Americas 'Alarmed' segment, we developed a behaviour model and tested it using structural equation modelling of survey data from Vermont, USA (N = 702). Our model, which integrates social cognitive theory, social norms research, and value belief norm theory, explains 36-64% of the variance in five behaviours. Here we show descriptive social norms, self-efficacy, personal response efficacy, and collective response efficacy as strong driving forces of: voting, donating, volunteering, contacting government officials, and protesting about climate change. The belief that similar others took action increased behaviour and strengthened efficacy beliefs, which also led to greater action. Our results imply that communication efforts targeting Alarmed individuals and their public actions should include strategies that foster beliefs about positive descriptive social norms and efficacy.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 197.23K | Year: 2010

This research explores the connection between the process for making a decision and the satisfaction that people have with the final decision. Making decisions in a democratic society about managing the environment or managing risks usually ends up displeasing some interest groups while pleasing others and yet, without widespread acceptance, decisions can be stalled in court or stymied outright. To improve democratic acceptance of decisions, regulatory bodies strive to broadly involve the interested and affected parties in dialogue and incorporate their input. While there is much advice from conflict resolution and public participation practitioners on how to do this well, there is little scientific understanding of how people judge the quality of these dialogues and how those judgments, in turn, affect the acceptance of decisions. In this project, the scientists learn how participants come to their beliefs about the fairness and competence of dialogue in a public participatory decision-making process. Experimental studies have suggested that there is a fair-process effect; people who think the discussion was fair are more willing to accept the resulting decision, even if they suffer negatively because of it. Theory suggests a comparable link between participants? perceived competence of a dialogue and decision acceptance.

By measuring specific qualities of the communication within decision-making processes, the research team is able to draw conclusions about how government agencies can better satisfy the expectations and needs of interested and affected parties and, thereby, produce decisions with higher democratic legitimacy.

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