November 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 6 // Feature Articles // 6FEA2

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The Public's View of Energy Education

How does the public rate Extension as a source of information on energy use and energy technologies? What are the preferred methods to disseminate such information? This Arizona study presents some answers.

Donna R. Iams
Assistant Professor of Home Economics
School of Family and Consumer Resources
University of Arizona-Tucson

Mari S. Wilhelm
Assistant Professor of Home Economics
School of Family and Consumer Resources
University of Arizona-Tucson

The Extension Service, for several years, has been aggressively providing information about energy use and energy technologies. Since Extension's goal is to provide information that will benefit the consumer's decision-making process rather than product or service promotion, the consumer's reaction to that form of information is important.

This research, therefore, was done to determine how past and future consumers of household energy-saving features perceived Extension as a source of energy information relative to other sources of information. A second purpose of this study was to determine which methods consumers believed were most effective for disseminating energy information.

... The results of this study indicate that the consumers have in the past and should in the future continue to view Extension as a leader in energy information.

The Sample

During the summer of 1981, 814 (63% response rate) mail questionnaires were returned from adult members of Arizo- na households as part of a Western Regional Development Center project.1 The sample was equally divided into rural and urban residents with names and addresses randomly selected from the 1981 telephone directories.2 Multiple mail-out procedures were employed using the Total Design Method.3

This study is based on a subsample of 604 respondents Who had indicated that they'd added, or planned in the next 2 years to add, selected energy-saving features to their home. It was assumed that those who added energy-saving features or planned to do so were probably motivated to seek energy information and thus more apt to have the opportunity to judge energy information sources and dissemination methods.

Information Sources

Given a response range from 'very worthwhile" to "not worthwhile," respondents rated the worth of energy information provided by public utilities, local government, the public library, the State Energy Office, retail stores, and Extension. The energy source that received the highest rating of "very worth while" most often was Extension, followed by the State Energy Office (see Table 1). The energy information source that received the lowest rating of "not worthwhile" most often was the retail stores, followed by the public library.

Table 1.
Respondents' perceptions of energy information sources.

Information Source
Extension Service
Energy office
Public utilities
Public library
Local government
Retail stores

Demographic characteristics of education, age, and rurality were examined to determine if they were related to the respondents' opinions of Extension. The following results emerged:

  • As the educational level of the respondents increased, so did the percentage of respondents who rated Extension as "very worthwhile." The range was from 53% of the high school graduates to 58% of the respondents with graduate degrees.
  • When examining the respondents' ages, 63% of those between the ages of 25 and 44 rated Extension as "very worthwhile. "The percentages for "very worthwhile" dropped to 42% when the respondents were over the age of 54.
  • Among urban respondents, 55% reported Extension as "very worthwhile," while 51% of the rural respondents gave the same rating.

The ratings were examined again, this time controlling for the type of energy-saving feature that the respondents had added or intended to add within the next two years. Those features used included solar hot water heaters; double paned windows; solar collectors; glass doors on fireplaces; outside window shades; weather stripping and caulking; floor, ceiling, and wall insulation; wood-burning stoves; evaporative coolers; and clock setback thermostats. With the exception of "adders" of clock setback thermostats, adders of each energy-saving feature gave Extension the highest frequency ratings of "very worthwhile" as a source of information. "Planners" varied only slightly from adders in their ratings. For planners, the more expensive the feature, such as solar devices, the less likely they were to rate Extension as worthwhile.

Information Dissemination

The second part of the study was to determine which methods of dissemination were believed to be most effective for providing information. Given a scale of "very effective" to "not effective," the respondents rated TV/ radio, newspapers/magazines, direct mail, free workshops, consumer brochures, and billboards. The dissemination methods that received the rating of "very effective" most often by adders and planners were TV/radio and newspapers/magazines (see Table 2). The list for "not effective" responses most often included billboards and free workshops. Direct mail appeared equally as "not effective" and,'very effective." This resulted from a low number of accumulated frequencies for this method in both categories. Responses varied only slightly with education, age, and rurality.

When taking into account the type of energy-saving features that were added or respondents had intentions of adding, there was little difference. Adders more likely stated that TV/radio was "very effective" for most features. Planners tended to indicate the same except for solar devices and fireplace alterations. For these features, they stated workshops were more effective.

Table 2.
Respondents' perceptions of methods of information dissemination.

Direct Mail

Conclusions and Implications

Reliable energy information is a basic need of consumers who want to make effective energy conservation decisions. For some consumers, just locating reliable energy information can be a challenge. As consumers consider implement- ing conservation practices, the availability of energy information and the perceived reliability of that information will be a significant factor in their final decision. The results of this study indicate that the consumers have in the past and should in the future continue to view Extension as a leader in energy information.

As Extension agents review their present programs and plan new programs, they should continue to consider the methods of dissemination rated most effective by consumers. More public service announcements and stories on radio and television could result in having a greater effect on the consumer's decision-making process than brochures and workshops. Furthermore, the news media approach is a less costly form of dissemination than other printed materials.

A final plus for Extension is the positive perception of the consumers in the prime age (25-45) of home buying. This segment of the population may very well continue to use Extension for future energy decisions and for other sources of information.


  1. Data for this article were cc I lected under the auspices of Western Region Project W-159, "Consequences of Energy Conservation for Western Region Households."
  2. A. B. Blankenship, Professional Telephone Surveys (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1977).
  3. D. A. Dillman, Mail and Telephone Surveys: The Total Design Method (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1978).