organizations do not always follow federal regulations. Reporting a power plant accident may invite expensive consequences for a utility company even if the incident is insignificant, so both operators and utility officials hesitate to report as significant problems what may turn out to be unimportant events. Because minor events are much more common, it is not surprising that operators and officials may wait in the hope that a situation will resolve itself.

At Three Mile Island, in fact, the failure of responsible personnel to manage events effectively and to report the accident quickly seems to have been partly due to the reward structure of the workplace (Egan, 1982). There is a considerable body of research on organizations as social institutions that sheds light on the processes that can operate in organizations to undermine the intent of stated policies (e.g., Cyert and March, 1963; Kaufman, 1971, 1977; March and Olsen, 1982; Sproull et al., 1978). An informed expert in organizational behavior would probably have been able to see that the existing regulations were inadequate to ensure reporting of the events at Three Mile Island or similar reactor accidents. With available knowledge, the society could probably develop a more effective oversight procedure or change the balance of incentives to favor more rapid reporting of potential disasters.

Nonresponse to Energy Audits

Free or low-cost home energy audits are being offered by many utility companies around the country. The typical level of response is less than 5 percent over the duration of a program (Hirst et al., 1981; Rosenberg, 1980). In California, for example, electric and gas utilities publicize their free energy audits both in the media and in bill inserts, and the publicity assures the consumer that an audit would be beneficial in terms of both savings and comfort. By 1982, however, only about 2 percent of the eligible California customers had taken advantage of the offer.3

Why do people pass up information that is both useful and free? There are several possible reasons. They may not trust the utility as a source of information; they may not believe the offer of something for nothing; they may be unable to arrange a convenient time for the energy audit to take place; they may not even see the announcements of the program. Or they may be unwilling or unable to act on information about energy-saving investments for their homes because they cannot do the necessary work themselves and believe that they cannot find a reliable contractor, and so may see the information as irrelevant.

If energy audit programs are to be of any substantial practical value to residential energy users, they must be based on improved understanding of consumers’ beliefs and motives relating to home energy conservation. Understanding the communication processes operating in this situation



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement