Householders need a coherent shove from someone they trust

This is a guest post by Trewin Restorick, CEO of Global Action Plan It is part of a series of comment pieces on whether government needs to do more than nudge us towards sustainable living.

This weekend I visited my parents in Devon. On arrival my Dad presented me with a smart meter that had been sent to him by his energy company. The easy-to-install diagram was absolutely no help whatsoever as it was totally different from the set-up in my parent’s home. After a good 30 minutes discussion we finally figured it out, but Dad decided that the whole thing was more bother than it was worth and put it back into the box. My parents are highly resource conscious and environmentally aware, but despite this the energy company’s attempt to nudge them to take further action hit a blank. 

If you talk to politicians they will be able to present a highly compelling and coherent picture of the steps they are taking to nudge the population towards a more sustainable future. They will be able to point to feed-in-tariffs, smart meters, the obligations on the energy companies, the forthcoming Green Deal and the Renewable Heat Incentive. Surely all of these things placed against the back-drop of rising fuel prices will create the substantial shift required?

The coherency of this approach falls apart though when you look at things from the household’s perspective. People like my Dad receive a plethora of individual messages from a variety of sources. For instance, the energy company is sending him stuff with poor installation guidance and sales people are contacting him to discuss using his roof space for solar. His response is who do I trust? Where should I be making my investment? What new support is on the horizon which might be more financially compelling?

Each of the nudges he is currently receiving is insufficient to shift behaviour. What he needs is a coherent shove from a credible source and some help to make the suggested changes easier. How could this be achieved? Global Action Plan’s experience suggests the Government should turn nudge into shove by doing the following five things:

  1. Creating a compelling and coherent narrative around their vision for more sustainable lifestyles and a clear route-map as to how it is seeking to achieve this vision. Crucially this map needs to show households the policies that are in place now and in the pipeline to enable people to make sensible choices.
  2. Finding, training and supporting trusted voices. If households feel that advice is tainted because people are trying to sell them stuff off the back of it they won’t trust it. Trusted voices are needed in the community to provide unbiased and robust advice. These voices may be community groups, local authorities, media, etc.
  3. Understanding that seeing-is-believing and the power of peer support. We have had huge success with a Housing Association by creating a local show-case home which people can visit. The family in this home is not full of die-hard greenies but it has been willing to try things and share experiences with the local comunity honestly and openly.
  4. Providing installation support. Time and again we have seen that sending people stuff and then expecting them to install it just doesn’t work. We need an army of community support to help getting things installed.
  5. Celebrating achievements. Local stories of how people have saved money and run their homes more efficiently have an enormous impact of getting others to follow and to slowly shift the social norm.

None of these five points is rocket science. All of them could help create stronger local communities and might even create new sources of employment. Bringing them together would create a feeling of shove and would certainly help people like my Dad shift from a desire to do the right thing to making tangible changes.

One comment

  • I think that what your dad was sent wasn’t a smart meter, but a real time display unit. A smart meter has to be installed, as it replaces the “normal” electricity meter, so it couldn’t have been “sent to him by his energy company”. Sorry if this sounds picky, but one of the difficulties that we face in getting the message over to people like your dad is the complexity of the language. If we “experts” can’t get it right, what chance does your dad have?

    “If households feel that advice is tainted because people are trying to sell them stuff off the back of it they won’t trust it. ” Yes, that’s almost certainly true. The problem is that paying for independent advice isn’t popular with clients, either. Since the present government won’t fund a free advice service, and the clients won’t pay for it, how else is the adviser to be paid, other than by receiving payment from those who want to make profit by installing the improvements? This is the nettle that has to be grasped and addressed, otherwise no-one is going to act on the advice, however well tailored, accurate and valid it is.

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