The National Science Foundation is spending roughly $1 million to study ways to use children as a means to get their parents to use less energy.
The Oregon State University study seeks to change "hearts and minds," and deploys Girl Scout troops in an array of interventions aimed at "behavioral modifications."
"Explanations of widespread disengagement with energy use often rest on the belief that energy behavior is rooted in individuals' concerns about the environment and/or costs of energy," the grant for the project states. "Missed in these explanations is the need to understand and address sociological and psychological factors in energy behavior. This project employs a series of energy use interventions in the community of Fremont, California, engaging children, youth and their families in this community."
The researchers are using energy metering technology and smart devices and apps to track energy use of participants.
"A novel intertwining of revealed lifestyle patterns from high-resolution data, data-driven tailored feedback, and community-based interventions has the potential to attract the hearts and minds of households and community members in ways that economic and environmental concerns cannot," the grant states.
The study, which began last fall, has received $999,951 in taxpayer funding so far. Research will continue through August 2020.
Each intervention will be "child and youth-focused," including using Girl Scout troops to encourage their families to use appliances less, and a high school competition to "encourage widespread energy engagement and savings."
The project will also involve community meetings with community college students.
Hilary Boudet, an assistant sociology professor at Oregon State, is leading the study. She has used Girl Scouts to nudge their parents in her research before.
A paper published in July 2016 found that Girl Scouts could be effective at changing what their parents eat and how they get around.
"Energy education programmes for children are hypothesized to have great potential to save energy," the study, published in the journal Nature Energy, states.
"Here, using a cluster-randomized controlled trial with 30 Girl Scout troops in Northern California, we assess the efficacy of two social cognitive theory-based interventions focused on residential and food-and-transportation energy-related behaviours of Girl Scouts and their families," according to the study. "We show that Girl Scouts and parents in troops randomly assigned to the residential energy intervention significantly increased their self-reported residential energy-saving behaviours immediately following the intervention and after more than seven months of follow-up, compared with controls."
Similar results were found for a "food-and-transportation energy intervention."
"The results demonstrate that theory-based, child-focused energy interventions have the potential to increase energy-saving behaviours among both children and their parents," according to the paper.