University of Vermont

Snowy Day

Sacramento & The BECC Conference

by Tarah Rowse, Curriculum & Community Connections Graduate Assistant

What do Sacramento, energy efficiency, homeless people, behavior change, and mini cupcakes have to do with each other? Not much, unless you happened to be at the Behavior, Energy & Climate Change (BECC) 2012 Conference in Sacramento, CA mid-November. The BECC Conference focuses on understanding individual and organizational behavior and decision-making related to energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and sustainability. The conference had over 700 participants in attendance and provides the opportunity for sharing strategies, successes, challenges, and research findings.

Mieko Ozeki (Sustainability Projects Coordinator) and I kicked off the BECC Conference with an excellent workshop on Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM) led by Doug McKenzie-Mohr, a leader in the field. McKenzie-Mohr walked us through the steps of CBSM from selecting behaviors, to identifying barriers and benefits, to developing strategies, pilot testing, and broad scale implementation. Particularly useful were the insights and discussion around strategy development using principles of social diffusion, norms, commitment, prompts, and communication. 

The two and half day conference held sessions running the gamut of energy efficiency programs, social marketing techniques, gamification, home energy audits, electric vehicles, transportation choices, innovative government initiatives, and peer-to-peer capacity building, among others. One of my favorite sessions was a roundtable on "Designing Enduring Organizational Change." The participatory session first provided some principles of organizational change (i.e. The Leadership Principle, The Information and Feedback Principle, The Continuous Change Principle) which helped frame our discussions for the brainstorming session, where we designed a campaign to address a specific sustainability challenge for a community of our choosing. 

As a Precourt Student Fellow part of my registration was covered by the Stanford Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (thank you Precourt!) and a special luncheon was provided on the top floor of the Hyatt where the conference was held. The lunch provided students an opportunity to chat with each other about our research as we looked over the California State Capitol.

The rest of my registration costs, travel, accommodation, and food was covered by the UVM Office of Sustainability. Many thanks to the office for their support. The conference was an excellent professional development opportunity and I'm grateful to have been able to attend.

Taking advantage of the warmer weather (sort of, it was a bit of a cold spell in Sacramento) I made it out for a couple city runs. I was surprised both times by the number of homeless people I saw. One of my early morning runs took me by a shelter with at least 15 people sleeping outside on the side walk. As I ran a bike path on the banks of the Sacramento River I pondered (not too heavily) the conditions that lead to homelessness and the challenges with addressing the issue. I finished up the loop by stepping back in time, running the cobbled streets of Old Town Sacramento.

Oh, I almost forgot. The cupcakes. There was no shortage of tasty edibles at the conference. A wide selection of breakfast pastries, egg burritos, yogurt, granola, juices, and coffee awaited the participants each morning. Excellent lunches followed suit. Mini cupcakes were one of the afternoon snacks. Make your own gorp was another favorite, and ice cream bars. If that wasn't enough they had popcorn and beer for one of the early evening film sessions.

The well-organized BECC Conference was an excellent introduction in to the practical implications of behavioral theory and science for addressing the energy and climate change issues of our day. Throw in some nice food and a little sightseeing for extra measure. Worth the journey? Definitively.