The need for behaviour change to drive energy efficiency has been acknowledged for decades, but attitudes have been slow to change. So could working with the psychology profession radically move things forward, asks energy expert, Professor Martin Fry?

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The recent Paris Climate Deal (COP21) has set challenging targets for carbon reduction in coming decades. Later this year, countries have to report the detail of how they will contribute. It is to be hoped that this will reinvigorate climate change as a driver for action.

But what of energy efficiency and why, in the UK, has it taken so long to bring about the long awaited changes expected from this carbon-cutting action?

The answer is down to a mixture of politics, culture and lifestyle attitudes.

1. Politics

The Energy Efficiency Deployment Office (EEDO) was launched in November 2012. In it’s opening document, it reads: “We estimate that through socially cost-effective investment in energy efficiency we could be saving the equivalent of 22 power stations worth of energy by 2020’. That statement could have triggered a significant debate and action, but was completely missed by the media. The EEDO was then quietly wound up just before the 2015 general election.

2. Culture

An organisation’s attitude to avoiding the waste of energy is often down to its culture, which in turn is often driven by priorities. In a commercial or public sector organisation energy cost may be only 2% or 3% of operating cost and so managing it may not be seen as a priority. That said, the cost may be in the millions of pounds and a 10% easily achievable saving well worth having. For an energy intensive industry the cost may be thirty percent and an appropriate priority will be given to energy efficiency.

3. Lifestyle

Individuals may have no interest, at home or work, in saving energy. The reasons being similar to above: energy costs are a tiny proportion of the cost of running a home and why change lifestyle?

So where are we now?

Behaviour change has long been seen as instrumental in changing deep-seated attitudes preventing uptake of energy efficiency. Training courses have been running for decades, and are still very much needed, but attitudes need to change faster.

The psychology profession has wide experience in behaviour change and has recently become involved with the challenges facing action on energy efficiency.

The energy management and psychology professions have now agreed to work together to engage with organisations that would benefit from behaviour change by bringing the psychology professions’ skills forward to address some of the long-standing barriers to more efficient energy management.

In January 2016, the two professions organised a workshop, hosted by the Energy Institute, to bring together their skills and engage with organisations with positive experience or needs in this area.

The behaviour change workshop focused on:

  • Linking practice to current research

  • Linking general behaviour change to sustainability

  • Changing perceptions and dealing with sensitivities

• Linking energy behaviour to business objectives

• Impact of design and technology on behaviour

• How to measure impact of behaviour change and demonstrate results through data.

The next step will be to set up of a working group to select case study organisations to pilot new behaviour change programmes.

Progress will be reported at second workshop in September 2016.

In the meantime, it is hoped that the COP21 outcomes will help support this work as will working with carbon reduction programme The Planet Mark.

Martin Fry sits on The Planet Mark Advisory Panel, and is a Visiting Professor at City University, and Honorary President, ESTA (Energy Services and Technology Association).

On February 25th, Martin will join climate experts and business and environment leaders to lift the lid on the Paris Climate Deal and what it means for businesses at an event being organised by The Planet Mark.

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