Aug 03, 2016


The Energy-Saving Behavior Modification Intervention is a theory-driven, school-based intervention aimed at improving adolescents’ energy- and greenhouse-gas-saving behaviors. Participants learn about climate change, and how to modify their own behavior to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas production, during five weekly 50-minute lessons taught in the classroom by a trained instructor. Compared with those in the control group, students in the intervention significantly increased their energy-saving behaviors, particularly air-drying clothes and turning off appliances and other energy-using devices.


Target population: Adolescents in school

This program is a school-based intervention made up of five weekly 50-minute lessons that promote behavior changes to reduce home electricity-, transportation-, and food-related energy use, and to increase greenhouse-gas (GHG)-saving behaviors. The program is presented to participants as a media design workshop. It focuses on factors that have an impact on behavior, rather than on attitudes or knowledge, including the required skills, and the confidence to successfully perform the behaviors. Students learn about climate change, how to modify their own energy-consuming behaviors, and how to work in teams to design and produce a YouTube-style media message to convince their peers to reduce their impact on climate change and energy insecurity by changing their behavior.

The curriculum is taught by a trained instructor with the regular classroom teacher present. During the sessions, students learn about and discuss climate change using a variety of activities and exercises. Lesson 1 includes a general discussion of climate change and how to measure and change one’s own behavior. Lessons 2 through 4 provide more detailed information about specific areas of energy consumption, and opportunities for behavior change. Lesson 2 focuses specifically on home energy use, Lesson 3 focuses on transportation, and Lesson 4 focuses on food. Across the five weeks, participants track how often they complete specific energy-saving behaviors, including hang-drying clothes, turning off appliances and other energy-using devices, biking/walking/taking the bus/carpooling instead of driving, eating less meat, eating less processed food, and using a reusable bottle for beverages. After each lesson, students pick from that week’s category one behavior to focus on changing. In Lesson 5, students share food they have prepared and film their media messages.


Cornelius, M., Armel, K. C., Hoffman, K. Allen, L. & Robinson, T. N. (n.d.) Increasing Energy- and Greenhouse Gas-Saving Behaviors Among Adolescents:  A school-based randomized controlled trial. (Working paper) Retrieved from

Evaluated population:  A total of 165 10th grade students at a public high school in Palo Alto, California, made up the sample for this study. The treatment group was 92 percent 10th graders, 63 percent female, 40 percent white, and 36 percent Asian, with an average age of 15.5 years. The control group was 94 percent 10th graders, 53 percent female, 46 percent white, and 38 percent Asian, with an average age of 15.4 years.

Approach:  Adolescents were randomized at the teacher level. Three teachers responsible for four classes were randomly assigned to the intervention group, and two teachers responsible for four classes to the control group. This resulted in 89 students in the intervention group and 81 in the control group. The intervention group was taught the special curriculum by a trained member of the research team, with the regular teacher present, while the control group received standard content taught by their regular teacher. Students were given a baseline survey in the first week of the program, and a post-test survey in week six, one week after the intervention group curriculum ended. Survey questions were intended to measure the frequency and intensity of participants’ energy- and GHG-saving behavior, including hang-drying clothes, turning off appliances, eating processed food, eating meat, and using a reusable bottle or cup. The survey also assessed participants’ values regarding environmental sustainability, perceived self-efficacy with respect to energy- and GHG-saving behaviors, and knowledge about behaviors related to climate change. At baseline, students in the intervention group reported more frequent home-electricity-saving behavior than the control group, but there were no other initial differences between the groups.

Results:  The primary outcomes of interest were energy- and GHG-saving behaviors. Students in the intervention group significantly increased their energy- and GHG-saving behaviors compared with the control group. At the follow up, more than 66 percent of the intervention group improved on two or more energy- and GHG-saving behavior measures, compared with 48 percent of the control group. In the intervention group, 32 percent of students improved on three or more behavior measures compared with 20 percent of the control group students. Specifically, the intervention had a positive impact on hang-drying clothes (d = 0.44) and shutting off appliances and other energy-using devices, compared with the control group (d = 0.76). There was no difference between the groups in the use of vehicle transportation to school, meat consumption, processed and packaged food consumption, and the use of reusable beverage containers.

At post-test, the intervention group had increased their knowledge about climate-change-related behaviors compared with the control group, although the difference was only marginally significant. There was no difference between the two groups in their perceived importance of environmental sustainability. Perceived self-efficacy related to switching off appliances and other energy-using devices, driving more efficiently, and eating fewer processed and packaged snacks increased among intervention group students, compared with the control group.

There were no differences in the program’s impact among subgroups of participants. However, the changes in hang-drying behavior were driven by relatively large changes among a smaller group of the participants, while changes in turning off appliances were smaller but spread out more evenly among the participants.



Cornelius, M., Armel, K. C., Hoffman, K. Allen, L. & Robinson, T. N. (n.d.) Increasing energy- and greenhouse gas-saving behaviors among adolescents:  A school-based randomized controlled trial. (Working paper) Retrieved from


Curriculum materials are available online at

Contact information
Marilyn Cornelius
Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources
Yang and Yamakazi Environment and Energy Building-4210
473 Via Ortega
Suite 226, Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305


Adolescents, High School, Males and Females (Co-ed), School-based, Skills Training, Civic Engagement: Other, Manual is available.

Program information last updated on 8/3/16.

Subscribe to Child Trends

Short weekly updates of recent research on children and youth.