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Tackling climate change from home: turning good intention into action

Concern about climate change is high, as eight in ten people say they are either very or fairly concerned about climate change*. To combat climate change, we’ll need to change our behaviours, however, concern and awareness on their own are not enough to drive sustained behaviour change.
climate change

New research has revealed that nearly half of people in Britain are still unsure of what individual actions they can personally take to help tackle climate change. To encourage behaviour change, organisations will need to focus on removing barriers to the uptake of energy efficient actions and communicate clearly to the public on what they can do to make a difference.

A new report, Tackling Climate Change from Home: How to Turn Good Intentions into Positive Actions, written by The Behavioural Architects and commissioned by Smart Energy GB, explores how behavioural science can help engage consumers in climate-friendly behaviours around the home, and investigates the barriers to undertaking those behaviours.

The research also challenges commonly accepted assumptions about barriers to taking action. Being older and living with a disability or health issue, generally wasn’t a barrier to the ability or motivation to carry out energy efficiency behaviours. However, providing more information on ease of action, such as the amount of time required to install energy efficient technology, will be reassuring and encourage people to undertake more environmentally friendly steps.

The research also highlighted that different approaches are needed for different property types, with renting emerging as a significant obstacle to the uptake of energy efficiency behaviours. It is much harder to persuade people to get anything that requires installation, such as a smart thermostat or smart meter, because of the perceived – or actual – barrier of getting landlord permission.

One of the eight energy-efficiency behaviours examined in the report was having a smart meter installed. The report’s interviewees knew about the benefit of being able to monitor their energy usage with a smart meter and identified that automatic meter readings would reduce their ‘mental to do list’. Smart meters were also seen to be the ‘future’; as people in the study were aware that at some point everyone will be expected to have one.

Progress is already being made to upgrade our energy system to support our net zero ambitions, with a lot of the work to date done through regulation and infrastructure. In 2022 the smart meter roll-out will see a tipping point, as we pass the landmark of 26.5 million meters connected to the DCC network - that's half of the 53 million needed.

As the smart meter network scales up, consumer engagement and action will be critical alongside these wider infrastructural changes.

When people have smart meters installed, they gain access to their energy use data in a way that hasn’t been available before. This visualisation of household data is key to the behaviour change required for energy efficiency, with 79% of smart meter owners saying that they understand what they need to do to save energy around the home and 72% of smart meter owners having a better idea of what they’re spending on energy (Smart Energy Outlook, 2021). When people understand their energy use with the help of data, they can identify the actions to take for greater energy-efficiency. Which is great for both the environment and reducing energy bills.

Smart meters are also available for smaller businesses as part of the national rollout. Having access to their energy data helps make businesses usage and costs clearer.

An artisan bakery used their smart meter and associated data to identify actions they could take to be more sustainable. Before their smart meter installation, the bakery turned on all four decks of their bread oven even when some decks weren’t being used. On seeing their data and the energy this was costing them, they began only turning on the oven decks that were definitely going to be used and used residual heat from the heated decks to cook other food. Having access to accurate energy use data, therefore, gives small businesses the control to make behaviour changes needed to become more sustainable.

The Behavioural Architect’s report concludes by setting out a series of recommendations for organisations who are involved in talking to the public about climate change or encouraging them to take energy-efficient action:

  • Make sure that any communications reflect language already used by the public
  • Avoid using the government’s net zero targets as a motivator
  • Ensure that communications aren’t negative in tone
  • Use emotional, rather than rational, framing
  • Wherever possible communicate multiple benefits to carrying out a behaviour - number one on this list should be cost savings

The full list of recommendations from the report is available to download from Smart Energy GB’s website, here.

The Climate Change Committee has made it clear that there is an urgent need for the public to play an active role in the journey to net-zero **. Which will require people to make both easy changes and high-impact shifts in behaviours that are consistent with the scale of the climate challenge. The effectiveness of organisations' messages to encourage behaviour change, from energy-efficiency to travel habits, will be key to Great Britain’s net-zero journey.

For more information on smart meters and their benefits, please visit smartenergygb.org.

*BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker, March 2021, Wave 37.

** Committee on Climate Change, Behaviour change, public engagement and Net Zero, October 2019.

Fflur Lawton
Meet the author

Fflur Lawton

Head of Public Affairs, Smart Energy GB