Should the government advertise the “green switchover”?

This article is by James Murray and first appeared on BusinessGreen. It covers today’s launch of our new report Neither sermons nor silence: the case for national communications on energy use.

The government will today be called on to relax its ban on advertising spend and commission a national communications campaign to drive adoption of upcoming green initiatives, such as the Green Deal energy efficiency scheme, the smart meter rollout, and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

The recommendation is the centrepiece of a new report from Green Alliance, backed by a number of high profile firms including Scottish Power, Asda, Kellogg’s, Groundwork, PepsiCo, which argues that a government-orchestrated campaign is essential to ensure the success of the coalition’s flagship green policies.

However, the new report, entitled Neither sermons nor silence: the case for national communications on energy use, predicts that without a co-ordinated approach to raising awareness of key policies such as the Green Deal, the government is unlikely to generate the levels of adoption it is hoping for.

“It comes down to basic economics,” said Alastair Harper, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance. “If you spend a lot of money making these policies happen but then don’t tell people about them you are not getting an optimal return on your investment.”

Not ‘Act on CO2’ mark 2
His comments were echoed by Green Alliance’s head of research, Faye Scott, who told BusinessGreen that the extent to which policies such as the Green Deal and the soon-to-be-launched domestic RHI will depend on the scale and rate of adoption, and as such it is essential that the government ensures they are properly promoted.

“We are not talking about an Act on CO2 mark 2 campaign,” she said, referring to the last government’s controversial campaign calling for people to take action to cut emissions. “But there needs to be something that joins together the Green Deal, the smart meter rollout, and the incentives to promote microgeneration. Otherwise people will be getting offered different products and services from all directions and you will get a very confused message.”

The government has indicated that it wants to see the private companies providing Green Deal services to drive adoption of the energy efficiency makeover scheme, but Scott warned that many private-sector firms may struggle to drive adoption.

“There are going to be trust issues with a new scheme, particularly when it involves the energy companies who are already aware that they enjoy only low levels of public trust,” she said. “That is not to say the government is necessarily highly trusted, but there are examples of well-run government-backed communications campaign where they can use their authority to promote change.”

It doesn’t have to be expensive
The report cites the example of the campaign to raise awareness of the digital switchover and the Change4Life healthy living campaigns, both of which are widely regarded as having been successful.

Scott also argued the digital switchover and Change4Life campaigns offered a model that would significantly reduce the cost of advertising for government. “There are models out there where the private sector provides the bulk of the funding and the government then orchestrates a national campaign,” she said. “That is the route ministers should go down. It does not have to be exorbitantly expensive to government.”

Fears about take-up
The report will further fuel fears about the level of take-up for a number of the government’s flagship green policies. The introduction of the domestic element of the RHI was recently delayed, while the building and insulation industry has expressed concerns that the Green Deal will only see a “soft launch” this autumn that will result in a collapse in demand for energy efficiency services. There have also been complaints that ministers have not done enough to prepare consumers for a mandated smart meter rollout that should see smart energy meters deployed in every home by 2019.

The government has countered that all its flagship policies remain on track and has repeatedly signalled that £200m will be made available to help incentivise early adoption of the scheme, although details on how the funding will be used are yet to be finalised.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change also confirmed that work was under way with industry to develop a communications strategy to support the smart meter rollout.

“Communications will be vital to the success of the rollout of smart meters to millions of homes and businesses and to making sure that the benefits of smart meters are fully realised, and we are running a consultation on precisely this issue to make sure that we get this right,” he said, adding that the consultation closes on 1 June.

However, he refused to be drawn on whether the government would play a similarly central role in supporting the Green Deal when it is launched this autumn.

“On the Green Deal specifically, this is at its heart a market-driven initiative and we believe that participants are best placed to leverage their customer knowledge and brands to provide services people want,” he said. “Moreover, the Green Deal is not a one size fits all approach. But this does not mean that Government is without responsibility to help this market succeed. There are obvious and important areas where government communications are important. And we recognise absolutely the need to be joined up and consistent in our messages at a national and local level.”

2 comments

  • Margaret Dantas Araujo

    Having read the report I can not help but think of the Energy Savings Trust. A quasi government body whose primary role is “to give impartial, accurate and authoritative advice on how to reduce carbon emissions and use water more sustainably, as well as to help people to save money on energy bills.” They could quite easily step into the role of trusted one stop point of contact since one it already occupies. Instead of advocating for a government led communication would it not be more prudent to encourage the Energy Trust, which is primarily funded by DECC to launch a national campaign?

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