Can Russians promote energy saving behaviour without adversely affecting economic development of their own country? A look at Chelyabinsk.

Environmental discussions in Russia often focus on atmospheric pollution, waste and drinking water. They are starting to include sustainability and energy consumption. Russia is fourth in the world for primary energy consumption, electricity production and fossil fuel extraction. Across Russia’s cold climates, central heating is widely available in cities, with cheap electricity. There is very limited use of smart meters for heat or initiatives to improve energy-efficient construction, partly due to historical payment mechanisms for regulating energy use and retrofitting apartment blocks.

Photo of a view of a snowy city street in Chelyabinsk facing uphill with a mix of multicoloured apartment blocks, shops and other businesses
View of a street in Chelyabinsk city

The researchers reviewed demographical characteristics such as age, gender, marital status, education, household behaviour, psychological and health factors. They developed an Energy Saving Behaviours Index (ESBI). Chelyabinsk has a population greater than one million and has cold winters and hot summers. There are large industrial plants across the city.

We surveyed 599 people in Chelyabinsk, Russia. We studied (1) the socio-demographic factors of residents and their households, (2) mental health and subjective well-being (SWB), and (3) physical health. The study showed that the overwhelming majority of residents of a typical Russian city are extremely dissatisfied with the state of the environment (more than 80% of respondents) and 70% of them believe that they can contribute to improving the situation.

Krupnova et al., 2022, Domestic energy-saving behavior index as sustainability indicator

They completed an environmental survey via social media and asking people on the streets. They used statistical analysis to review the results. In addition to the demographic, health and psychological questions, they asked about energy saving behaviour. About 60% of residents used LED energy efficient light bulbs and 80% keep the light on only in the rooms they are in at the time.

Just over 40% keep their televisions on all the time and commonly use large loads in their washing machines. This did not vary greatly across income levels because wealthier residents had larger apartments and proportionally greater consumption. Overall residents in standard properties (0-70m2) were more energy efficient in consumption. A change in energy consumption or energy efficient behaviour was perceived to affect their comfort level and emotional state, but having a financial dependent in their home increased energy saving behaviour.

Although the study has limitations in question choice and usage, comparison of data across multiple types, to encourage greater energy saving behaviour they recommend local government initiatives promoting energy saving options, strategies that psychological address the issues around comfort and daily emotional balance to reduce stress which would more likely encourage more environmentally friendly behaviours. They suggest researching energy-neutral development for different segments of the local population.

Krupnova T.G, Rakova O.V, Shefer E.A, Semenenko D.P, Saifullin A.F, (2022) Domestic energy-saving behavior index as sustainability indicator: Are Russians ready for sacrifices to protect the environment?, Environmental and Sustainability Indicators, Volume 16, available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indic.2022.100209

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