U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Federal Energy Management Program
Social Empowerment Institutional Change Principle
By creating a context in which workers feel empowered to take action, Federal agencies can promote behaviors and behavior changes that support their sustainability goals. When individuals and organizations believe they can reach desirable social goals, they often do—as is shown in research studies of change.
Workers are socially motivated by three desires:
- Autonomy: They want to have control over their work.
- Mastery: They strive to do better at what they do.
- Purpose: They long to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Appealing to these desires typically is more effective than implementing formal rules and regulations or giving prizes for best performance. Strategies to encourage behavior change through social empowerment include educating individuals about what they can do and promoting participation through teamwork, seminars, conferences, meetings, and campaigns.
An important element is that workers must have the necessary equipment, systems, and processes that enable them to change their behaviors. If they don't, they won't be empowered. This alignment is emphasized by the infrastructure principle and is important in analyzing the tools component of institutional context (see Step 2 of the Institutional Change Process).
To learn more about the social empowerment principle, see Evidence-Based Background Material Underlying Guidance for Federal Agencies in Implementing Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans Implementing Sustainability: The Institutional-Behavioral Dimension.
The following case studies demonstrate successful applications of the social empowerment principle.
USPS–Lean Green Teams: The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has continually expanded its Lean Green Teams with a goal to have a team in every facility.
Connecting Sustainability to the Agency's Mission: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not overemphasize rules and guidelines. Instead, it focused on presentations to get the word out, so its staff was self-motivated, and the energy awareness message translated from the field-level up, not only from the top down.
Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans
Learn how the following Federal agencies incorporated the social empowerment principle in their 2011 strategic sustainability performance plans (SSPPs).
U.S. Department of Defense: It aimed to achieve sustainability through social empowerment by appealing to something bigger—creating and maintaining favorable environmental conditions where humans and nature coexist in harmony and contribute to the social and economic requirements of current and future generations.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Its plan called for fostering training and education among employees as mechanisms to achieve social empowerment. The plan also promoted opportunities to engage staff, partners, grantees, patients, industry, neighbors, and the larger community.
U.S. Department of Education: Its plan referred to an agency-hosted Summit on Education for a Green Economy in 2010 that brought together leaders from education, industry, labor, and government to share their visions and strategies for the agency's role in creating a green economy. The plan called for informing employees about opportunities to help the environment both at work and home.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: The agency's plan created a competition among its divisions for purchasing the most ENERGY STAR products in proportion to the amount of products needed. Winning team members were to gain social approval by having prime parking spots or their names and photos posted on an achievement board.