How do we get people to change their ways?

DECC‘s latest public attitudes survey found that climate change and energy security is not at the top of most peoples’ minds this week. No surprise there as food and transport costs continually rise in an economy that still seems to be flatlining.

As many of us are dealing with the after effects of rising flood waters and persistent rainy weather, one wonders when DECC carries out its next quarterly survey if these views will change.

It is clear from this report there is still a need to increase knowledge about the impact of climate change and the potential solutions available. While 82% said they give a lot of thought to saving energy in the home, when asked about specific actions many still did very little. For example:

  • 64% boil kettles with more water than needed
  • 52% leave lights on when not in rooms
  • 47% leave on the heating if going out for a few hours
  • only 27% wash clothes at 30 degrees or lower

Do you boil enough water just for one cup?

Photo: Carlos Porto

As many of these are simple actions that don’t cost anything how do we get people to alter their behaviour? We need clearer links to convince people it’s worth doing something differently, explaining the benefits and showing how change could help improve a household’s finances.

But is it enough to focus on the household purse? We still as a nation throw vast quantities of food (and therefore many £s) away each week  – with one bag in three going straight into the bin. In these tough economic times I’m surprised that so many can continue to do so.

The survey also highlights the need for greater knowledge on alternative renewable technologies. While many are familiar with solar, off shore wind, wave and tidal power, there was less understanding of low-carbon heat measures that can be installed, such as air and ground source heat pumps, biomass boilers or micro Combined Heat and Power units.

This Government claims to be the “greenest ever” but I’m yet to be convinced. We need conviction from Government, properly supporting the investment of alternative energy sources, that will help to improve energy security, tackle fuel poverty and develop a robust industry which will make a viable contribution to an ailing economy.

This approach should be supported by a comprehensive communications strategy educating householders and businesses about the benefits of changing their behaviour. At this stage we’re talking about simple actions, using simple, consistent messages to reinforce why and what needs to be done. But it’s no use just concentrating on this for a few months – this campaign needs to be continuous, with regular reminders of simple changes that can be made to peoples’ daily / weekly routines that can make all the difference.

I’ve said it before and no doubt will say it again but cutting communications budgets is just false economy in the long-term.


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