Low Carbon Economy, 2011, 2, 107-114
doi:10.4236/lce.2011.22014 Published Online June 2011 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/lce)
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Lifestyles and Their Impact on Energy-Related
Investment Decisions
Maria Gröger, Victoria Schmid, Thomas Bruckner
Institute for Infrastructure and Resources Management, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany.
Email: mgroeger@wifa.uni-leipzig.de
Received May 3rd, 2011; revised May 23rd, 2011; accepted June 2nd, 2011.
This paper presents an empirical survey of energy-related i nvestment decisions made by private households in Germany.
The investment behaviour is segmented and discussed by applying the milieu approach. The decision makers are clus-
tered in certain lifestyles, as represented by the Sinus-Milieus® from the Sinus Institute. To analyse the relationship
between the lifestyles of house owners and their energy-related investment decisions, telephone interviews were con-
ducted in order to acquire data on currently installed heating systems and preferences for future heating systems in
private residential buildings. The results of the survey support the hypothesis of a link between lifestyles and the en-
ergy-related investment behaviour. Based on the observed relationship between lifestyles and decisions on energy
technologies, predictions of energy trends in private residential buildings can be improved. In addition, the knowledge
about specific development paths allows the utilisation of the information for information campaigns and the promotion
of energy supply technologies which lead to lower CO2-emissions.
Keywords: Lifestyles, Consumers, Survey , Space Heating Technology
1. Introduction – Rationale for the Approach
Private consumption, especially energy consumption, is
one of the largest demand classes in most economies, and
is therefore responsible for a major fraction of global
emissions. Reducing energy use and related emissions in
private households is an important step towards a more
sustainable future in a carbon neutral economic society.
In industrialised countries, the energy consumption in
private households is dominated by the heating energy
demand; indeed, with 67% space-heating is still the larg-
est household energy end-use in the EU [1]. Many stud-
ies [2-5] show that the use of fossil fuels for heating
could be reduced significantly by more efficient heating
systems, the use of renewable energies and an energy
efficient retrofitting of buildings. However, the extent to
which the theoretical reduction potential can be realized
depends on individual decision processes. For instance,
residential heat demand depends on the energy consump-
tion behaviour of building owners. Such behaviour can
be subdivided into two consumption profiles:
Operational decisions of private households, e.g. using
hot water and selecting an indoor temperature, are made
intuitively and may not be changed expeditiously [6].
However, in order to be able to make energy-related in-
vestment decisions, different technology options, the fu-
ture energy demand and the estimated costs have to be
considered. The study presented in this paper focuses on
such investment decisions related to energy conversion
technologies, which largely influence the final energy
demand of buildings (cf. Figure 1). In doing so, this
study concentrates on investment decisions in the resi-
dential sector which are undertaken by private building
Diffusion of distributed energy technologies affects
the entire urban energy system. Thus, environmental in-
novations (e.g. the use of renewable energy) in this field
are an important step towards a sustainable future. Using
lifestyles is a possible approach for conducting research
on environmental innovations in the context of energy
consumption [7,8 ]. That data is complemented with find-
ings from sociology, which indicate that a society can be
clustered into social milieus [9]. This empirical socio-
logical research has revealed that most people in a soci-
ety are not homogeneous. They differ with respect to
their preferences and knowledge, their ability to explore
and process information, and therefore exhibit individual
rates of acceptance of energy technologies. Consequently,
Rogers [10] and Vishwanath [11] differentiate people
according to their innovativeness because of the impact
Lifestyles and Their Impact on Energy-Related Investment Decisions
Figure 1. Different influences affecting heat energy con-
of personality on the adoption or rejection of innovation.
Lifestyle-related, target-group segmentation is used in
social scientific environmental research to assess the re-
lationship between attitudes and environment-related
behaviour. The influence of lifestyles on a sustainable
environmental development in general [12-14] and en-
ergy consumption in particular [15,16] has been dis-
cussed frequently, but not yet conclusively. Today, there
is a broad consensus that energy consumption by a soci-
ety is not only influenced by technical aspects (e.g. effi-
ciency) but also by socio-demographic aspects (e.g. age,
education, size of households) and the lifestyles of con-
The application of the lifestyle approach to environ-
mental research is motivated by the assumption that en-
vironmentally compatible behaviour can only be pro-
moted by considering behaviour patterns of different
lifestyle groups [17,18]. This assumption has been ado-
pted by studies that investigate the segmentation of con-
sumers with regard to their energy using behaviour [19]
and by studies on the acceptance of nature conservation
measures [20].
Studies that have been conducted thus far indicate that
not only energy consumption, but also energy-related in-
vestment decisions can be assessed with the aid of the
milieu approach. According to ecological consumer re-
search [21,22], the individual energy-related investment
behaviour is a strategic decision.
Lifestyle research has been primarily influenced by the
milieu approach developed in the field of market re-
search. Well-known models used both in science and
marketing are the lifestyle approaches developed by
Schulze [23] and the Sinus Institute. The Sinus-Milieus®
have been established as a science-based model. They are
continuously kept up-to-date by utilising the results of
secondary research and information obtained by the mo-
nitoring socio-cultural trends. Today they are broadly
used for mark e t r e s e ar ch and scientific research related to
sustainability and environmental research [24]. For ex-
ample, the future behaviour of private households with
regard to their water consumption was analysed using the
Sinus-Milieus® [25].
The results obtained confirm that energy-related in-
vestments by private households can be clustered and
evaluated by using the lifestyle concept. The motivation
for the present study was the hypothesis that an analysis
of private decisions could deliver more profound knowl-
edge about expected rates of future house renovations
and preferred heating technologies. Understanding con-
sumer behaviour is a prerequisite for actor-oriented and
target-group specific approaches that attempt to promote
a reduction in th e residential heat demand. Thus, the fol-
lowing empirical approach, which was designed to inves-
tigate energy-related investment decisions made by pri-
vate households, attempts to analyse to what extent a
relationship between the lifestyle of house owners and
their investment decisions concerning energy technolo-
gies exist. To this end, telephone interviews were con-
ducted as part of this study in order to acquire data on
currently installed heating systems and preferences for
future heating systems in private residential buildings.
In part 2 of this paper the applied target-group model
and the methodology of the empirical analysis are de-
scribed. In part 3 the main findings of the survey are
presented and discussed. Finally, the most important les-
sons learnt are summarised and their importance for fur-
ther research is discussed.
2. Empirical Survey
2.1. Lifestyle Approach
A possible segmentation of lifestyle clusters is provided
by the Sinus-Milieus®. The underlying scientific model
groups people according to their attitudes towards life
and their ways of life. Fundamental value orientations as
well as attitudes towards family, partnership, work, lei-
sure activities, culture, money and consumption are re-
garded as being influential on lifestyle typology. The
evaluation applied provides interesting results for con-
sumer and market research. In addition, it not only allows
an analysis of the survey results that reflects socio-de-
mographic criteria but also one of socio-cultural charac-
The Sinus Institute has applied this milieu concept in
18 countries so far. Therefore, Sinus-Milieus® are de-
veloped and validated individually for each country.
Figure 2 shows the classification of the ten Sinus-Mi-
lieus® according to the social classes and value orienta-
tion of the German population. Figure 2 points also out
overlaps of some milieus as it is not possible to draw
opyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Lifestyles and Their Impact on Energy-Related Investment Decisions109
Figure 2. The Sinus-Milieus® in Germany used in the em-
pirical study. Source: Sinus Sociovision.
exact boundaries between the lifestyle types. Thus, for
strategic investigations the individual milieus are often
compressed into four segments (Table 1).
In order to investigate the social diffusion processes of
technological innovations, two important milieu groups
should be disti ngui shed:
Modern Performers are important representatives of
the Social Leaders class. They rep resent a young , uncon-
ventional and likewise very educated milieu. They have
high incomes and show a willingness to spend higher
prices for quality and environmental friendly products.
However, they exhibit an extremely resource-intensive
lifestyle, which is characterized by a relatively high land
and energy consumption. Modern Performers belong to a
milieu that is willing to adapt to innovations quickly. As
a consequence, they make significant contributions to the
standards of a society. The other milieus orient them-
selves according to set trends and standards and adapt
their behaviour to them. With their climate-friendly atti-
tude towards renewable energies, Modern Performers
have a role model function and play an important role in
the environmental and sustainable communication [26].
The Middle Class b elongs to the Mainstream and cha-
racterises the society’s average age, education, and in-
come. However, their resource use and their willingness
to pay higher prices for environmental friendly products
are slightly above the average of the population as a
whole. The Middle Class is one of the milieus which is
resistant to innovations. The focus of this milieu group is
on stability. Decisive for the adaption or refusal of inno-
vations is the degr ee of uncertainty related to the innova-
tion [26].
Using basic values and attitudes from a questionnaire
comprising 45 questions, the marketing company Sinus
Sociovision divides the German population into ten Si-
nus-Milieus®. For the study described in this paper, the
Sinus Institute provided the respective questions to be
included into the questionnaire on lifestyle-related in-
Table 1. Classification of the Sinus-Milieus®.
Segment Sinus-Milieu®
Modern Performers
Social Leaders
Middle Class
Mainstream Consumer Materialists
Upper Conservatives
Nostalgics of former GDR
Hedonists Escapists
vestments. The answers of the respondents related to the
Sinus-Milieus® were sent back to Sinus and coded into
lifestyles by them. Therefore, the authors had no access
to the cluster analysis used for generating the segmenta-
tion and are not allowed to publish the lifestyle-related
The use of the Sinus-Milieus® for scientific analyses
has been criticized because of this lack of information
disclosure. However, the above-mentioned studies [24,25]
show that it is common to use the Sinus-Milieus® in the
field of diffusion and sustainability research despite this
disadvantage. In comparison to other classifications of
milieus, the Sinus-Milieus® have the advantage that the
company Microm is able to provide compatible, spatially
referenced lifestyle data for Germany, Austria and Swit-
zerland [27]. The lifestyle data is therefore available in a
way appropriate for analysing the technical data for
buildings (age, type etc.) – an aspect which is important
for target-group-specific su stainability approaches.
2.2. Method
The empirical research consisted of a standardized ques-
tionnaire, conducted in Germany. The survey primarily
addressed the attitude of the individual lifestyle groups
towards different heating technologies.
The choice of people to be interviewed was based on a
multi-stage random sample. The target group was prop-
erty owners of one-family houses, double-family houses
and row houses. For this purpose we relied on the will-
ingness of the persons to take part in the interviews. The
survey was conducted using a computer-assisted tele-
phone interview, which took approx. 15 min. per inter-
view. In total 471 building owners were asked to reveal
their energy-related investment decisions. A total of 429
inquiries were completely filled out and evaluable. The
evaluation covered a basic computation and a bivariate
analysis based on the lifestyle aspect.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Lifestyles and Their Impact on Energy-Related Investment Decisions
3. Empirical Findings
3.1. Descriptive Statistics
Table 2 shows a summary of the main demographic
characteristics of the sample. From the data appears that
it is not a representativ e sample for Germany. The age of
the test persons is between 17 and 92 years. The mean
age Md = 57 is above the federal average, likewise the
educational level. 187 (68%)1 participants mention a
household income of 2,000 Euro and more. 214 (50%)2
of the participants are gainfully employed, whereas the
share of all employed people in Germany was 40%3 in
spring 2010.
The frequencies of the Sinus-Milieus® in the sample
are presented in Figure 3, as well as a comparison of the
average in Germany. The most represented are the Post-
Materialists with 154 test persons (35.4%). Together
with the Modern Performers (33 people, 7.7%) and the
Well-Establisheds (92 people, 21.4%) they form the So-
cial Leaders. The Traditionalists are represented by the
Upper Conservatives (31 people, 7.2%), the Traditionals
(21 people, 4.9%) and the Nostalgics of former GDR (15
people, 3.5%). The Consumer Materialists (10 people
2.3%) and the Middle Class (44 people 10.3%) represent
the Mainstream. The Experimentalists (30 people, 7.0%)
and the Escapists (0.2%) belong to the Hedonists. With
just one test person the Escapists are strongly underrepre-
The clear over-representation of Post-Materialists and
Well-Establisheds can be traced back to the fact that both
milieu groups live in houses above average [26] and so
were qualified above average as target subject for the
survey. Another reason could be the relatively high en-
vironmental orientation of these milieus, which would
explain a higher willingness to participate in the tele-
phone interview.
As in the present sample an equ al size of the groups in
regard to the lifestyles is not given (see Figure 3), the
analysis of variance was not possible due to a missing
homoscedasticity. Nevertheless, within the sample dif-
ferent attitudes of the lifestyles in relation to energ y tech-
nologies can be recognized.
The empirical data reveal a relationship between life-
style typology and the prospective choice of heating sys-
tems based on fossil fuels or renewable energy. Figure 4
shows a different pronounced preference for renewable
energies of the individual milieus. A bit surprising is th at
Traditionals and Nostalgics of former GDR – both mi-
lieus are classified as conservative and resistant to inno-
vations – have installed more renewable energy systems
than more innovative lifestyles like the Well-Establish-
eds. In Figure 4 it is distinguished between fossil fuels
and renewable fuels, meaning a more pronounced pref-
erence of the Well-Establisheds for environmentally
friendly gas-fired boilers based condensing boiler tech-
nology disregard here. In the group of renewable ener-
gies wood pe llets can be found – a prefer ence of the Tra-
ditionalists towards the classical fuel wood influences the
results, too.
Table 2. Descriptive statistics (N = 429).
characteristics Value Frequency
female 213 (49.7%)
Sex male 216 (50.3%)
< 500 7 (1.6%)
500 - < 900 5 (1.2%)
900 - < 1,500 31 (7.2%)
1,500 - < 2,000 44 (10.3%)
2,000 - < 2,500 44 (10.3%)
2,500 - < 3,000 30 (7.0%)
3,000 - < 3,500 28 (6.5%)
= > 3,500 85 (19.8%)
Household income
not specified 155 (36.1%)
no graduation 1 (0.2%)
School leaving certificate 198 (46.2%)
A-level (German Abitur) 56 (13.1%)
University degree 173 (40.3%)
not specified 1 (0.2%)
yes 214 (49.9%)
no 212 (49.4%)
not specified 3 (0.7%)
1Based on 274 specific data.
2Based on 426 specific data.
3In accordance with the Federal Statistical Office of Germany. Figure 3. Frequencies of Sinus-Milieus® in comparison to the
average in Germany.
opyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Lifestyles and Their Impact on Energy-Related Investment Decisions
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
In addition, two extremes can be identified with re-
spect to the preference of using fossil fuels: The Sinus-
Milieu® Middle Class shows a clear preference for fossil
fuels (80%). In contrast, only 40% of the Modern Per-
formers prefer fossil fuels. Both Sinus-Milieus® (Middle
Class and Modern Performers) also represent important
groups regarding the social diffusion of technological
innovations. Furthermore, similar socio-demographic fac-
tors (e.g. age) of both milieus facilitate a comparison.
Therefore, the following presentation of the survey re-
sults will focus on the attitud e of Modern Performers and
Middle Class.
3.2. Heating Systems in Use
Classifying the currently used heating systems by type
(Figure 5) provided the following results: Significant
Figure 4. Relationship between specific Sinus-Milieus® and preference for fossil-fuelled heating systems. (Because of an in-
sufficient number of cases the Sinus-Milieu® Escapists are not shown.) Source: Institute for Infrastructure and Resources
Management, 2010.
Figure 5. Heating systems used in Germany, classified by Sinus-Milieus®. Multiple answers were allowed. Source: Institute
for Infrastructure and Resources Management, 2010.
Lifestyles and Their Impact on Energy-Related Investment Decisions
differences between the lifestyles can be noted with re-
spect to the application of renewable energy technologies.
The Modern Performers occupy a leading position: 21%
of them already use solar heating systems, 12% geother-
mal energy and 9% heat pumps. Only 11 % of the Middle
Class use solar heat, whereas geothermal energy and heat
pumps are not used at all thus far. An exception is the
modern form of the renewable energy source wood.
Wood pellets are used more than twice as much by the
Middle Class (7%) as by Modern Performers (3%).
In both milieus natural gas fuelled heating systems
represent the commonly used systems. Gas boilers are
increasingly used in combination with innovative tech-
nologies and not just as a single heat source.
The differences between the two milieus are minor in
the case of gas, whereas the Modern Performers (24%)
use oil much less frequently than the Middle Class
In the survey, no one has yet chosen small combined
heat and power plants (CHPs). The survey reflects the
fact that night storage heaters and coal heating are de-
clining technologies in Germany. Only the Middle Class
still uses coal-burning stoves (7%) and night storage
heaters (2%). District heating plays only a minor role
(Modern Performers 3%, Middle Class 2%). This is pri-
marily due to the fact th at district heating is n ot available
in all cities in Germany, less because consumers reject
the technology itself.
The presented variances in the use of energy sources
show the existence of milieu-specific differences and
underline the above-mentioned hypothesis. However, the
extent to which techn ical data such as age of the building ,
type of the building and location of the house influence
the decision for or against a certain technology still has
to be analysed. This type of investigation will be con-
ducted as part of the second part of a project that will be
funded by the German Ministry of Education and Re-
search during the next five years.
3.3. Preferred future Heating Systems
Because of the current modernization status of household
heating systems, not only the status-quo but also the
question as to which heating systems will be preferred in
the future is relevant. The set of possible answers was
generally the same as for the status-quo. Only coal-
burning stoves and night storage heaters were excluded.
These systems are declining and are thus no longer taken
into consideratio n.
A main trend which can be indentified is a declining
interest in fossil fuels. However, natural gas will still
play an important role for both milieus in the future. A
significant difference is shown with respect to heating oil.
Only 12% of the Modern Performers are interested in
using it, in contrast 34% of the Middle Class still wants
to use heating oil.
There is a positive attitude toward renewable tech-
nologies. Although the Modern Performers demonstrate
their role as leaders in innovation adaption, the Middle
Class also exhibits an interest in the use of geothermal
energy (7%), heat pumps (5%) and solar heat (25%) in
District heating is preferred by 9% of the Modern
Performers, whereas the Middle Class does not appear
interested in district heating as a future heating system.
A positive trend can be noted for small CHPs. The
Middle Class (7%) seems more open towards small
CHPs in their buildings than Modern Performers (3%).
4. Discussion and Conclusions
4.1. Lessons Learnt and Further Research
The empirical approach described in this article investi-
gates energy-related investment decisions of private house-
holds. The main outcome of the survey results is an ap-
parent connection between lifestyles (here: the Sinus-
Milieus®) and investment behaviour with regard to
heating systems. Therefore lifestyles were chosen as a
means to measure behaviour like the investment in en-
ergy technologies, which can be related to attitudes like
ecology-minded (e.g. Modern Performers) or conserva-
tive (e.g. Middle Class). But using lifestyles instead of
socio-demographic data (e.g. age or size of household)
has also disadvantages. One disadvantage is the continu-
ous process of change in a society. The social transfor-
mation leads to a different composition of lifestyles. The
used Sinus-Milieus® are validated empirically every year,
due to changing values, preferences and lifestyle-stru-
ctures. Thus, they can be used as a realistic instrument
for the description of the social reality.
The Sinus-approach also has the advantage – com-
pared to other classifications of milieus – to provide spa-
tially referenced lifestyle data for Germany. Such highly
resolved spatially data on lifestyles can be linked with
technical data and therefore allow analysing the invest-
ment behaviour as a function of living conditions like
building type or location of the house. However, using
the Sinus-Milieus® has a major disadv antage: Th e classi-
fication of 10 milieus leads to a realistic picture of the
German society but complicates representative empirical
surveys. The varied allocation of the Sinus-Milieus® in
society causes diverse group sizes in representative sam-
ples, especially if the survey addresses only a certain part
of the population (in the present case house owners). The
condition of homoscedasticity is thus not observed. To
compensate this shortcoming, a judgment sample is
needed which allows an equ al representatio n of all milieu
groups. Alternativel y, with a larger sample size, a rando m
opyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Lifestyles and Their Impact on Energy-Related Investment Decisions113
Figure 6. Preferences for specific heating technologies distinguished by Sinus-Milieus®. Multiple answers were allowed.
Source: Institute for Infrastructure and Resources Management, 2010.
deletion o f over-represe nt e d milieu groups c ould be done.
Thus, the present survey will be re-conducted within
one year in the course of the second part of a project4
funded by the German Ministry of Education and Re-
search. The objective is to verify the empirical findings
taking into consideration the mentioned constraints. The
long-term scientific objective is the implementation of a
computer-supported, agent-based simulation platform
that enables researchers and decision makers to estimate
the development of heat energy demand within the resi-
dential building sector with respect to individual invest-
ments [28,29]. Using such information, regional energy
and climate concepts can be designed taken realistic ap-
proaches of action into account, and do not just consider
energy technical advice. To achieve such an objective,
further qualitative and quan titative surveys are planned to
describe the agent-specific behaviour in a more detailed
4.2. Policy Implications
As a main policy implication, this survey makes an im-
portant contribution to the discussion of environmental
compatibility and sustainability. The results provide a
“window of opp ortunity“ for sustainable us e of resources
and energy consumption and indicate that policy makers
should consider focusing on specific lifestyles for effec-
tive information campaigns. Communication processes
which are directly or indirectly related to the overall
concept of sustainab ility have to get linked to the various
attitudes and behaviour patterns.
This study emphasizes the role of Social Leaders as
leaders in the adaption of innovations in the diffusion
process of new energy technologies. As know s from lite-
rature [26] the Social Leaders are assumed as opinion
leaders and people who influence social standards. Other
milieus orient themselves by the Social Leaders and
adapt their behaviour patterns. The less innovative mi-
lieus will adapt long-term to changing conditions due to
social pressure. In the context of energy-related invest-
ment decisions this mean an increase of investments in
energy-efficient technology and the use of renewable
energies. To increase sustainability for a whole society,
communication strategies should focus on Social Leaders.
Thus, Social Leaders are a main target-group of envi-
ronmental-social approaches for promoting energy effi-
ciency improvements.
Furthermore, based on the observed link between life-
styles and decisions on energy technologies, predictions
of energy trends in private residential buildings can be
improved. Knowledge about development paths and spa-
tial referencing of lifestyles allows the use of this infor-
mation to promote sustainable consumption behaviour.
5. Acknowledgements
The empirical survey has been part of the “Path towards
an efficient energy supply system – Development of a
stakeholder-oriented municipal energy management sys-
tem in Delitzsch (Germany)” Project, which was sup-
ported by the German Ministry of Education and Re-
search. The authors gratefully acknowledge support by
the Institute of Geography of the University of Leipzig.
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