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Walk down an average street and it doesn’t appear that people are changing their energy use. Solar panels, wind turbines and external wall insulation are few and far between, lights are left on, windows sit open and 4 x 4s are parked in drive ways Habits around energy consumption are ingrained. Many of us have been leaving our central heating on overnight and enjoying deep baths every day for our adult lives. And we know from the behaviour change challenges of reducing drink driving and smoking that getting people to do things differently is a complex business.

But with government facing tough carbon reduction targets – 29 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050 – behaviour change and energy use is a hot topic.

The finer details of the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s Green Deal are currently being fleshed out to achieve these targets. This energy programme will allow owner occupiers, social and private renters to undertake energy efficiency improvements to their homes at no up front cost.

But the green deal will only work if individuals alter their energy use. New meters, wall insulation and air tight doors will go some way to reducing fuel bills but they won’t go far enough to cover the cost of improvements. Residents must also play their part.

Hence the launch of a Cabinet Office report in July - Behaviour Change and Energy Use. This paper uses behavioural and psychological insights to examine new ways of getting people to reduce their energy consumption.

One approach will test whether individuals can be encouraged to reduce their fuel use by providing them with comparative energy consumption information. Research shows that people are heavily influenced by social norms and if they find out they are using much more energy than similar households they might change their behaviour.

But will this ‘nudging’ policy, so favoured by the Coalition and its Behavioural Insights Team, really work when it comes to changing how people use energy?

Nudging certainly didn’t work in the fight against drink driving. The large reduction in drink-drive road deaths came about due to hard-hitting advertising campaigns combined with stronger penalties and the introduction of the breathalyser.

And the largest fall in the number of smokers on record wasn’t secured by nudging - it came from a blanket ban on smoking in public places. Research one year after the ban showed that it helped more than 400,000 people quit.

A nudging policy to change people’s behaviour around energy use may have some impact. But the green deal won’t work with ‘some impact’. A smaller reduction in carbon emissions won’t recoup the cost of energy efficiency measures and will leave a major funding hole.

Government must look again at energy use and behaviour change – using tighter regulation, taxation, legislation and high profile marketing.

Resident education also has a role to play. In a survey of 251 social tenants by Procurement for Housing, Fusion21, TPAS and Salford University, 14 per cent of respondents said they wouldn’t know how to use energy-saving equipment and nearly one quarter received no support from their landlord post-installation.

This demonstrates the need for effective advice and support for residents, showing them how to use green technology and change their behaviour to reduce fuel bills. PfH and Fusion21 are tackling this through a retrofit framework that will help social landlords provide information to tenants before and after property upgrades. As well as traditional forms of communication, the framework will offer innovative, highly targeted support that taps into existing community networks.

Resident education around energy use is only one tool in the fight against climate change, but it’s an important one. Housing in the UK accounts for 27 per cent of all carbon emissions and the social housing sector includes 4.5 million homes. Research from housing associations Gentoo and Worthing Homes proves the significance of tenant behaviour in reducing fuel bills. But nudging alone won’t bring the level of carbon reduction needed. A more robust approach is needed.

Steve Malone is managing director of Procurement for Housing. PfH and Fusion21 have launched a Retrofit Framework that will allow all UK social landlords to refurbish their housing stock sustainably and cost effectively. For more information visit

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Written by Steve Malone   
Monday, 19 September 2011 10:22


0 #1 DirectorIssi,
Agree nudges alone won't work, and behaviour change takes a long time. A combination of policy measures is needed. We take energy for granted and don't consider the cost. an energy efficiency site ranking electricals by their running costs and CO2 emissions,shows consumers the cost in monetary terms based on the manufacturers figures. Who would buy a cheap tumble dryer if they realised it cost nearly as much to run per year as its purchase price? A clothes line is still a greener option!

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