U.S. businesses and consumers are becoming more frugal about their energy consumption, even as the economy slowly begins to recover, according to a new survey from the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions.

Businesses are paving the way by targeting average reductions in energy consumption by nearly 25% over the upcoming three-to four-year period, while 81% of the consumers surveyed said they took extra steps to cut their electric bill over the past year and 93% say they will use the same amount of electricity or less in the future, Deloitte said in the survey, which was released Monday.

“The recession is profoundly changing energy habits for both businesses and consumers. Using less may be the new normal, from boardroom tables to the kitchen tables,” said Greg Aliff, one of the survey’s authors and vice chairman in the energy resources sector at Deloitte.

The survey was completed by Deloitte and the strategy/marketing firm The Harrison Group, which polled more than 600 business decision-makers and more than 2,200 household decision-makers, Deloitte said.

The annual survey, “reSources 2012,” found that nine out of 10 companies have set goals regarding electricity usage and energy management practices, with 66% identifying cost-cutting as their primary motivation. It further indicated that 85% of businesses view reducing electricity costs as essential to staying financially competitive, up 9% from a year ago, and that 81% see cutting electricity costs as essential to their image.

“Companies are making significant energy efficiency progress, reporting that they have achieved about 60% of their targets for energy savings when it comes to electricity, natural gas, carbon footprints and transport fleets,” said Marlene Motyka, U.S. alternative energy leader at Deloitte.

But it is going to become tougher to achieve their energy-savings goals in future years, she noted. “Well over half, 62%, of companies report that their energy management goals were somewhat difficult to achieve. Moreover, 21% say their energy management goals were very or extremely difficult to achieve compared to 13% in [Deloitte’s] 2011 survey. The low-hanging fruit may have already been picked when it comes to energy efficiency,” Motyka said.

Consumers are becoming smarter about energy conservation. They are turning off lights that are not being used; more than one-third (35%) said they are replacing old appliances with new, energy-efficient ones; one fifth (20%) reported using a “smart” power strip that senses when appliances are off and cuts “phantom” energy use; and 12% cited getting a smart energy management application to control and reduce their energy consumption, the Deloitte survey said.

New technologies are helping businesses and individuals make smarter energy choices, said Joseph Stanislaw, an independent senior advisor to Deloitte and founder of advisory firm, JAStanislaw Group. “Now they can proactively manage their energy consumption and carbon footprints with smart meters, smart appliances and demand management programs.”

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