Office of Energy and Sustainability

Community-Based Social Marketing

About the Project

Goal: To develop a comprehensive approach to promoting sustainable behavior on campus.

Oberlin College has set a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2025.  While technology and capital investments are central to this goal, behavior change is equally important and often much more cost effective.  This project is a collaboration between the Office of Energy and Sustainability and Professor of Psychology Cindy Frantz. Professor Frantz is an environmental psychologist that is spearheading efforts to design an integrated approach to maximizing sustainability behavior. Oberlin College student researchers, in collaboration with the Office of Energy and Sustainability, will help to execute a Community Based Social Marketing analysis, and to implement the resulting plans.

About Community-Based Social Marketing

Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM) is a systematic, empirically based approach to designing behavior change programs. It is a five-step process:  

  1. Select the right behaviors: focus resources and energy on behaviors that are high impact, easily changed, and not already common.

  2. Identify barriers and benefits: determine why people do not engage in a behavior, and what benefits they can see from doing so.

  3. Develop strategies to change behaviors: design programs and campaigns that minimize the barriers to a behavior, and maximize the benefits.  

  4. Pilot strategies and evaluate the impact: conduct pilot programs and assess the effectiveness of particular strategies; make adjustments and improvements as needed.

  5. Broad-scale implementation and evaluation: launch program campus-wide; continually evaluate and adjust to maximize effectiveness.


Why We Need CBSM Projects

Oberlin College is known for its commitment to sustainability - it was one of the first institutions in higher education to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). To successfully achieve Oberlin’s stated goal of carbon neutrality by 2025, Oberlin’s Climate Action Plan describes a number of infrastructural and technological improvements that must be made; however it also assumes that at least 10% of carbon reductions will come from changes in behavior.  This will require the development of a community culture that embodies sustainability at every level.

Rob Lamppa, former Director of Sustainability at Oberlin College, commissioned research to investigate sustainable behavior change in support of the Climate Action Plan. Increased understanding of student motivations to reduce their energy usage was deemed key to develop programs working towards carbon neutrality. Rather than using a scatter-shot approach to promoting the myriad of conservation actions one could adopt, Oberlin committed to using the CBSM model to focus on the most impactful behaviors, to design effective interventions, and to rigorously measure outcomes achieved from specific actions.

The research shows that student motivation to save energy is low or very low for 30% of the student body - approximately 840 students! This is a significant number of students not internally motivated to behave sustainably, requiring development of strategies that externally motivate or non-intrusively alter energy-use.