Pro-Environmental Energy Behavior in the Military: Assessing Behavior Change Factors

By Rasa Smaliukiene

Pro-Environmental Energy Behavior in the Military: Assessing Behavior Change Factors

Attention towards energy and energy security over the last decade increased as the efficient military energy usage is considered to be one of the key enablers of military operational capabilities. This trend is reflected in European Union (EU) and NATO strategic priorities and initiatives that underline the importance of ensuring energy security for military operations as well as reducing the environmental impact of military operations [1,2]. In addition, a portion of research, technology, and innovation (RTI) projects in military and defense are focused on energy and particularly on renewable energy solutions. In general, three key factors that affect energy usage can be listed: energy generation technologies, energy management, and energy data collection and analysis systems together with energy behavior at military units [3]. Resonating with an overall trend in energy transition towards pro-environment energy usage, military RTI initiatives stress on technological solutions. Meanwhile, the energy behavior remains an inadequately explored factor in reducing the energy usage and thus increasing military energy security [4] and energy efficiency. Even though energy behavior in the military is gaining more attention, overall attempts in changing energy behavior of military personnel remains a managerial challenge.
The Capability-Opportunity-Motivation-Behavior (COM-B) model proposed by Michie et al. [5] and tested in numerous research projects is applied in this paper to investigate the energy-saving behavior in the military. The application of COM-B model to energy behavior leads to a better understanding of pro-environmental behavior in the military and facilitates a detailed analysis of the factors affecting this behavior. The model works in a context where three factors of the behavior (capability, opportunity, and motivation) are surrounded by managerial interventions, organizational policies, and limitations.
In the military context energy behavior is rooted into the trilemma of: (i) how to assure energy security for the military operations, (ii) how to use energy efficiently, and (iii) how to reduce the environmental impact of the operations. In this context, energy behavior plays a critical role after the energy policies and standard operating procedures are introduced and related technologies are deployed. All three considerations are gradually translated into the requirements for the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations as well as EU and NATO military environment promoting not only technological development but also energy behavioral changes. Specifically, the UN peacekeeping forces had implemented environmental policies in all peacekeeping missions since 2009. This includes the requirements for environmental management systems that include energy, water, and waste management. As a new step in promoting pro-environmental energy usage in the military, the UN introduced its Environment Strategy of the UN Department of Field Support (DFS) which came into effect in January 2017. Its energy related objective “to reduce overall demand for energy through efficiencies” is planned to be realized by 2023. This includes not only the requirements for energy efficient infrastructure but also the behavioral incentives where “awareness-raising and behavioral change” play an important role. In general, the UN initiatives complement NATO’s approach on energy security, energy resilience, and the protection of critical energy infrastructure. The improvement of energy efficiency becomes one of the key priorities, therefore NATO’s approach is also focused on the military by “reducing the energy consumption of military vehicles and camps, as well as minimizing the environmental footprint of military activities”. At the Brussels Summit in 2018, those priorities were emphasized to the Member States underlining the importance of “more education and training opportunities”. This highly resonates with energy priorities in security and other sectors. Energy and energy security as the strategic priority was elaborated through the activities of NATO Energy Security Center of Excellence that was established in Lithuania in 2012 in order to assist Strategic Commands, other NATO bodies, nations, partners, and other civil and military entities by supporting NATO’s capability development process, mission effectiveness, and interoperability by providing comprehensive and timely subject matter expertise on all aspects of energy security.
Given the situation where the energy policies and standard operating procedures are already introduced, and energy related technologies are deployed the COM-B model explaining the behavior change factors becomes an effective tool for the further research of military energy behavior. According to the model’s designers Michie et al., three factors heavily influence the behavior: capability (C), opportunity (O), and motivation (M) (Figure 1). The model explores individual’s behavior in the organizational context and provides the basis for managerial interventions, as well as includes main steps for behavioral change. According to this model, all three conditions must be met in order to make an influence on individual’s energy behavior: the individual’s physical and social capability, individual’s social and physical ability to explore new opportunities, and self-motivation as the crucial part of the behavior change. This model was theoretically grounded and applied in a wide variety of contexts: nutrition, smoking, physical activity, as well as for energy use by households and other end-users. The COM-B model was applied to improve energy behavior in the military too. However, those behavioral interventions in military and defense were purely practical and lacked intrinsic validity. This suggests that the COM-B model should first of all be tested as a solution/construct in the military context.

Assuming that a military context differs from a civilian context, the COM-B model needs to be validated and factors influencing the pro-environmental energy behavior in the military need to be identified. Studies showed that military members are indoctrinated already at the beginning of their military career. Consequently, military culture penetrates attitudes and behavior, whereas individuals report strong identification with the military. The military’s impact on an individual increase along the duration of the military service. Based on this evidence it could be assumed that the awareness of energy criticality in the military is increasing over the years of service, as shown by research in military energy efficiency. Capability, opportunity and motivation affecting pro-environmental energy behavior are positively strengthened with the understanding that energy in military is considered to be a critical combat’s “tooth”. These considerations are taken into account when planning and conducting military operations for professional soldiers as well as for military conscripts. It is also assumed that the conscripts’ perception of the importance of energy in the military differs from the professional soldiers. The conscripts are serving for a short term and they can be not yet fully indoctrinated. Their capabilities, opportunities, and motivation to behave in a pro-environmental way could be linked to their civil life experiences of a green lifestyle and not to the military service.
Efficient usage of military equipment and infrastructure is perceived as a potential for the freedom of action and an opportunity for enhanced capabilities of the military operations. Consequently, important parts of the military’s RTI are directed at addressing those issues. For example, new technologies that are used in expeditionary environment as well as in fixed military installations are focused on improving energy supply and reducing the usage, but the awareness of energy behavior remains limited. Despite the emphasis on technical solutions related to energy, the call for behavioral change at a unit level remains a priority. Considering that at military bases soldiers are semi-isolated from their existing ties as well as their life outside the military, their bond with a military unit rises, and therefore, pro-environmental energy behavior must be analyzed not only from an individual’s behavioral perspective, but also from the individual’s social identification with the military unit. During the demanding military training, professional soldiers as well as conscripts are trained in order to increase their awareness of their own behavior in the context of the unit and their peers. Therefore, COM-B model must focus not only on the individual’s behavior, but also include the collective military behavior of the military unit.
The unique feature of our research is that we disaggregate two groups of energy behavior: individual energy behavior (“my” behavior) and unit energy behavior (“our” behavior). While the former follows the COM-B traditional paradigm used and validated in a series of studies, the latter relies exclusively on military research that puts a stress on soldier’s bond with a military unit.


The purpose of this study is to explore how a politically and institutionally favorable environment that forces military transition towards the pro-environmental energy behavior is reflected at a military unit level. First, we outline our research instrument and measurement model by extending the construct of COM-B model for behavioural change in the military. Next, we perform data analysis using a series of statistical tests. By applying the COM-B model we investigate energy behavioural factors and postulate that the three behavioural change factors—capability, opportunity, and motivation—are positively linked not only with individual soldier’s behaviour, but also with a collective energy behaviour of the unit.

These are the main conclusions from the study:
First, collective and individual behavior has to be segregated while testing energy behavior in a military unit. The research findings justify this conceptual segregation and show that the dependence between the behavior change factors and the collective energy-saving behavior is pronounced more than the dependence between the factors of the individual’s behavior. The segregation of collective and individual behavior is a fundamentally new approach when testing the Capability-Opportunity-Motivation-Behavior (COM-B) model.
Second, an extended COM-B model can be used while measuring pro-environmental energy behavior in the military. The model validation process led to a construct with three statistically reliable indicators representing the three independent COM variables. In this construct, the three indicators were formed of a different number of measures, respectively: Capability was defined by three levels of knowledge (I receive information, I know, I understand). Opportunity was defined by seven measures and composed the largest indicator in the construct. Motivation, composed of three measures, was the strongest component of the model.
Third, positive energy behavior is linked with an overall satisfaction with the military service. This finding indicates that the three COM-B model variables—Capability, Opportunity, and Motivation—need to be understood more broadly than only in conjunction with pro-environmental energy behavior. Motivation is the dominant variable of the COM-B model in this study and it is, therefore, linked with the satisfaction too. Military service satisfaction through motivation is said to influence energy behavior in the military unit.
Fourth, there is only a small difference in energy behavior between the professional soldiers and conscripts. This finding demonstrates that while collective behavior prevails over the individual one in the military unit, the time and nature of the military service does not make a significant impact on energy behavior. This confirms the theoretical statements that energy behavior is a learned entity and therefore, further research on energy behavior in military organizations should incorporate this insight.


1. Samaras, C.; Nuttall, W.J.; Bazilian, M. Energy and the military: Convergence of security, economic, and environmental decision-making. Energy Strategy Rev. 2019, 26, 100409.
2. NATO. NATO’s Role in Energy Security. Available online: (accessed on 30 October 2019).
3. A Roadmap for Sustainable Energy Management in Defence and Security Sector. Guidance Document 2017. Available online:—guidance-document.pdf (accessed on 30 December 2019).
4. Strielkowski, W.; Lisin, E.; Tvaronavičienė, M. Towards Energy Security: Sustainable Development of Electrical Energy Storage. J. Secur. Sustain. Issues 2016, 6, 235–244.
5. Michie, S.; Atkins, L.; West, R. The Behaviour Change Wheel: Guide to Designing Interventions, 1st ed.; Silverback Publishing: Sutton, UK, 2014.


This is an excerpt of the journal article: Pro-Environmental Energy Behavior in the Military: Assessing Behavior Change Factors at a Selected Military Unit, by Rasa Smaliukiene, Gintaras Labutis, and Ausrius Juozapavicius. Published: 2. January 2020 in Energies, 13 (1) 219; DOI: under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0).

Rasa Smaliukiene
Associate Professor

Rasa Smaliukiene holds a PhD in Business Administration and is Professor at International Economics and Management Department in Vilnius Gediminas Technical University. Her research focuses on marketing, consumer behaviour and leadership.