National Mandates Won’t Save Us!: How to Design Energy Efficiency Policies that Address Institutional Barriers to Change
There are many national policies aimed at driving an increase in energy efficiency (EE) implementation. But how effective are they? Over the past 20 years, the U.S. government has established five legal authorities mandating federal agencies to prioritize energy-efficient products when purchasing. As the largest single buyer of energy-consuming products, energy-efficient purchasing across the federal sector would result in huge energy savings and emissions reductions. Despite this, our research has found that only ~55% of federal purchases currently meet existing requirements. If national mandates are not enough to ensure that federal agencies are buying efficient products, what is? To answer this question, we surveyed 161 procurement and sustainability staff from 26 different federal agencies. Findings revealed that several institutional factors (i.e., the roles, rules, and tools within an organization) play a key role in determining how likely federal buyers are to prioritize EE. Ensuring that federal agencies comply with existing EE requirements is foundational to achieving a clean energy future. This will require more than national mandates, but also the design of policies that successfully identify and address the institutional factors that must be changed in order to increase EE implementation. This paper presents an overview of the data collection and analysis methods for our study, as well as key survey findings and the insights they offer for overcoming institutional barriers to compliance with existing EE requirements. We conclude by discussing how these strategies can be broadly applied to improve the design of EE policies in the U.S. and beyond.