The effort of efficiency

7th September 2011

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  • Local government ,
  • Central government ,
  • Employee engagement ,
  • Stakeholder engagement ,
  • Management/saving



Are subsidies the best way to get consumers and businesses to embrace energy efficiency? Sarah-Jayne Russell considers the tricky problem of motivation

The incorrect warning on the front page of Monday’s Daily Telegraph that the government’s green policies were going to cost households an extra £300 a year, is a sad commentary not only on the paper’s attitude towards any attempts by government to tackle climate change, but, if you read further, also on the public’s willingness to change.

The article, which follows a series of similar “warnings” over recent years, was based on a leaked memo to David Cameron from former BP employee and newly-appointed government advisor Ben Moxham.

Putting aside the fact that Moxham’s interpretation of DECC figures estimating rises in energy bills are highly selective – the 30% hike by 2020 referred to was actually an estimate for electricity alone and not gas, with the correct figure nearer 13% – his arguments about public engagement with energy efficiency measures are more arresting.

In the memo, Moxham argues that householders are unlikely to adopt energy-efficiency measures, such as better insulation and improved heating systems, in sufficient numbers to counter the impact of policies supporting the development of low-carbon electricity generation. DECC’s calculations of savings from such projects are, he says, unconvincing “given the hassle factor and other barriers to consumer uptake”.

It is this “hassle factor” that is, for me, both the most worrying part of the article and the bit that rings most true. Encouraging individuals to make the simplest of changes to habits can be a real struggle. I am forced to confess that becoming a vegetarian to cut my carbon footprint has been a great deal easier than remembering to turn my computer screen off when I leave work every night.

Breaking bad habits is hard enough, but asking individuals to pay now to improve a building for long-term benefits is even harder. This is why the government is creating the Green Deal, to help take some of the sting of investing in a home in which you may not live in long enough to reap the final rewards of becoming energy efficient.

However, it seems unlikely that the Green Deal will be enough to motivate the majority of individuals to attempt to improve the efficiency of their homes and their lives. Moxham’s answer is for the government to subsidise “a large number” of measures, but I don’t see that working either.

People might not like it, but there has to be some stick with this carrot, just like there is for businesses, and maybe the threat of larger fuel bills is what’s needed. I’m pretty sure that I would be more likely to turn my computer screen off if my boss charged me a pound a day, than if he offered to pay me a pound a day to remember to turn it off.

Do you agree? Why not start a discussion in the IEMA LinkedIn Group and have your say?


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