As a general rule, organizational energy use is not inefficient, so production processes are not often greatly wasteful of energy. But past procedures are often routinized and may not readily change with economic conditions. Also, when an organization has no incentive to save energy, as with some utilities, or when customers lack the market power to provide an incentive for energy-efficient operation, the problem becomes significant. It has not been considered appropriate for government to intervene in the private sector by regulating industrial processes; for public-sector organizations, however, intervention is acceptable and much more likely.
Political units make decisions for energy users without necessarily treating them as energy decisions. They may create needs for energy services or provide means of meeting needs at different levels of energy intensity. For example, the political decisions to invest billions in limited-access highways, to offer tax incentives to homeowners, and to develop centralized water and sewer systems, have had major long-range energy implications. These policies have encouraged suburbanization and have made detached suburban homes relatively inexpensive and convenient to reach by automobile. But a dispersed settlement pattern creates a transportation need that is hard to fill except by private automobiles. It also increases heating and cooling needs in comparison with attached city dwellings.
The trend toward suburbanization has further limiting effects on energy choices: as dwellings and workplaces disperse and inner-city populations decline, mass transit systems are used less and therefore become less energy-efficient and more expensive. As a result, transit services are cut, making even more people dependent on the automobile. In this way, past political decisions, such as those to invest in public highways rather than public transit, have significantly changed the environment in which people choose where to live and corporations choose where to build plants and offices. Those decisions have made some choices attractive and effectively foreclosed others, with far-reaching energy implications.
Local political decisions that do not involve expenditures can also indirectly influence energy use: zoning practices, building codes, and land-use plans can influence the placement and construction of buildings in ways than constrain choice both by individuals and organizations. This may be a potent form of influence on energy use, as evidenced by the effects of a passive solar building code in Davis, California (Dietz and Vine, 1982): the code has changed building practices in Davis and some of the surrounding area, and has resulted in a greater saving in energy than could have been achieved by the new construction—so, adoption of the Building code may have changed the behavior of the occupants of existing buildings.