Gavin Ellis, Director and Co-Founder of Hubbub, discusses how digital solutions can be used to help households reduce their carbon footprint and save money
With COP26 just around the corner, there is an increased urgency this year to understand how households can cut their carbon footprint. There is now a wealth of digital solutions which can significantly help households to cut emissions, yet our polling of 3,000 people in November 2020 found that 63% of people don’t currently use such technology to run their home. Alongside this 61% of people are very concerned about their impact on the environment.
Smarter Living Challenge
This year Hubbub has partnered with BT on a ground-breaking new initiative called the ‘Smarter Living Challenge’ to understand how households can benefit from using technology to cut their environmental footprint and save money and time in the process.
We’ve been working closely with 60 households from across the UK who are diverse in terms of their age, gender, income, ethnicity, tech-savviness and environmental behaviours. Firstly, we conducted in-depth virtual interviews with each household which revealed that many people find it hard to relate what they do at home to climate change. This is particularly the case with energy use in the home, unlike more tangible environmental issues such as plastics and recycling.
Indeed, the impact of energy and water use in people’s homes is often invisible, and payment comes out via forgotten direct debits which means there is frequently little sense of how much is being used. Many want to know how they compare to other households and are keen to learn which devices or habits have the most impact.
Most of the group saw the hypothetical benefits of digital solutions and were open to trying out tech to run their home, but many didn’t see how it could directly benefit them and they needed knowledge and skills to get them started.
To that end, each household received a £50 voucher to spend in the BT shop on smart home devices such as smart lighting, smart plugs or heating controls. Then over a three-month period they were supported through themes including heating and hot water, lighting and power, food, shopping and travel. We have been exploring both the digital and non-digital solutions and looking at how these complement each other.
Participants were given several challenges to choose from including both tech-based and manual or behavioural options. For example, encouraging people to turn thermostats down by one degree, set thermostats to timers and trying a smart thermostat.
The creation of a private Facebook group as the main hub for activity has been central to the project. This has allowed participants to share best practice, hacks and ask questions, as well as the streaming of Facebook Live events with guest experts on smart home technology, food waste, electric vehicles and more.
The group fosters a sense of collective purpose, inspires others to take action and changes the social norm by allowing people to see ‘someone like them’ using smart home technology. Many of the participants helped each other with advice and guidance which often won over the sceptics, making them more open to change.
Participants have been sharing their stories through blogs, photos and video diaries as they have trialled a range of digital solutions such as smart home technologies to automate their home, green energy tariff switching sites, smart meters, online energy-saving assistants, and apps to help reduce food waste or monitor their consumption.
So, what have we learned?
It’s too soon to provide definitive final results, but some key points have stood out:
- Although it can save money in the long term, smart technology is seen as expensive, so uptake is limited by a willingness or ability to invest in it. Additionally, our polling revealed that 43% of people think that being ‘green’ is expensive. Adoption will be incremental for those new to smart tech and is likely to start with entry-level solutions such as smart plugs or smart lighting.
- Many less tech-savvy people are daunted by smart home technology, assuming it is too techy and complex for them. Often just giving it a go, or being shown how it works, overcomes that first point of friction and makes people eager to try out more. As one participant explained: “My lightbulb moment has been discovering the smart tech is accessible, easy to use and you don’t need to be super advanced. I don’t use that much technology, but the smart lightbulb and smart power strip have been incredibly helpful and took me less than 5 minutes to figure out”.
- There is a sweet spot between digital and behavioural solutions. The two are mutually supportive and it’s important to find the right balance of both. Some of our participants started out with a lot of smart home tech such as smart speakers, but they weren’t using them to save energy and money, while some of those who were the most environmentally minded had not previously considered how smart home tech could help reduce their impact. One participant explained: “We’ve switched to renewable energy, we’ve set our heating on a timer and have been wrapping up warm instead of just cranking up the heat”.
- You need to find a hook for people to initially engage because the bigger picture can be overwhelming. For some people this is technology and gadgets, for others, it is being ‘green’ and for some, it is saving money or feeling in control of their home. Our polling showed that 23% of people would use technology more if it reduced their impact on the environment, while 41% would use it more if it saved them money.
- Messaging must be adapted for different audiences depending upon their tech-savviness, and the time and money they have available. One participant was drawn in by using an app to reduce food waste: “Using an app to look at what we already have and making the most of it has been really eye-opening. I didn’t think we were food wasters but we really are and this has shown me that we can utilise so much more.”
Through this trial, we have already learned an enormous amount about how households can use digital solutions to reduce carbon emissions, and what the strategies are to increase uptake of the brilliant technologies that are available. We’re currently compiling the final results of the trial, which we’ll be sharing in April 2021, at hubbub.org.uk.
*Please note: this is a commercial profile