An Agent-Based Model for Awareness-Based Sustainability

An Agent-Based Model for Awareness-Based Sustainability

Giovanna Sissa (Università degli Studi di Genova, Italy) and Ernesto Damiani (Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8447-8.ch006
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This chapter discusses the effects of social interaction on collective behavior regarding the reduction of limited-resource consumption. Our working hypothesis is that key societal and psychological mechanisms leading to sustainable lifestyles can be enabled by ICT tools. We envision tools supporting social norms, i.e. rules governing an individual's by social sanctions that encourage sustainable behavior on the part of user and consumers. As enabling technology we identify smart metering systems that allows users to compare their consumption patterns with the ones of other consumers, as well as to dynamically re-define and share their personal reduction goals. We present an Agent-Based Model (ABM) to explore the role of awareness in the consumption of a scarce resource. Our agents represent households that use a resource – e.g. energy or water – whose consumption has to be reduced. Agents influence each other; such influence improves their awareness that, in turn, impacts on resource consumption.
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The prevailing “Global North” 1 lifestyle in developed countries is known not to be sustainable in terms of energy consumption, carbon dioxide emission, and depletion of scarce resources. Environmentally conscious lifestyles are becoming more widespread, but they are far from being globally accepted (Ellickson, 2001). Technology may help to increase efficiency or provide feedback on energy consumptions, but both practices have to become part of accepted social behavior to be effective.

In this chapter, we start from a basic tenet of social psychology: individuals are influenced by decisions, actions, and advice of other individuals, both consciously and unconsciously. We explore the potential of Agent-Based Modeling (ABM) to describe (at the micro level) such influence and to observe (at the macro level) its general effects. In particular, we propose a model to represent awareness spread and to assess the importance of smart metering functions to turn awareness into sustainable behaviors. The integration of new ICT services like smart meters into current household practices is not straightforward. To be correctly used, instruments have to be appropriated by users (Klopfert & Wallenborn, 2011), i.e. contextualized in their daily routine. The term appropriation is used here to describe how users integrate services into their lives, i.e. into an existing network of objects, practices and meanings (Pierce et al, 2010). Moreover, appropriated services have to be perceived by users as instruments they can use to comply with social norms. For example, if energy saving in the household must become an emergent social norm, smart metering functions must become appropriated tools, fully integrated in the users’ daily routines. A way to extend a social norm is to use rewards for “socially acceptable behavior” like incentives, although not necessarily monetary ones (Anisetti et al., 2010; Sissa, 2008). Community engagement can also be an effective tool, making use of social relations to make wasting energy socially unacceptable.

This chapter starts from the notion that social norms can foster behavioral changes toward more sustainable lifestyles. We shall explore if and how environmental awareness can drive behavioral changes toward sustainability and how the availability of smart metering functions can help households in reducing or optimizing their resource consumption.

Several studies recommend to include behavioural patterns in environmental sustainability researches, so that circumstances can be introduced whereby beneficial impacts are promoted and the detrimental impacts are prevented as much as possible (OECD, 2010). This chapter focuses on the role that users, consumers or citizens can play in spreading and adopting beneficial behavioural changes.

We will not deal with rebound effects - a broader and emerging research field (Boulanger et al, 2013; Hilty et al, 2006; Sissa, 2013) - but only briefly mention the social reinforcement aspects that can alleviate them.

The chapter is organized as follows. After some background, we discuss environmental awareness as a social limiting factor to avoid overuse of scarce resources. Then, we motivate our choice of the ABM paradigm for providing a description of the awareness spread according to the ODD (Overview, Design concepts, Detail) protocol. ODD is a general protocol for communicating individual-based and agent-based models. It has been formulated and tested by 28 authors (Grimm et al., 2006, 2010). Thirdly, we describe the dynamics of our own ABM, which simulates influence and awareness spread when metering functions are available.

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