CarbonCulture at DECC was an innovative research experiment: an exploration of putting together theories and practices from a broad range of emerging disciplines — like user-centred design, behavioural economics, social media and game design — in new ways. It aimed to test whether combining these approaches offers potential for additional carbon and energy savings across the UK at lower costs than are possible today. Darby, S. (2006) The Effectiveness of Feedback on Energy Consumption. A Review for Defra of the Literature on Metering, Billing, and Direct Displays. Environmental Change Institute. University of Oxford. This is a socio-technical challenge, needing socio-technical solutions. Applying only technical solutions can leave some savings on the table, which can — and must — be picked up by combining technical with social approaches.

We set out to test this approach because the potential impacts are so great. The cost of carbon and energy saving measures are slowly reducing, but they are still not low enough to make carbon and energy saving a mass-market activity. If the cost of delivering savings could be significantly reduced, then more carbon could be saved more quickly at less cost to society. The increased benefits of carbon-saving investment could also increase the total spending on carbon saving — if it is cheaper to do, larger targets can be set.

Most carbon saving measures that are available today — both on a domestic scale, such as efficient boilers, improved insulation, and smart meters; and on a large scale such as wind turbines and solar panels — have a linear cost of scale. Their cost increases roughly in proportion to the size of the problem, and if you’re trying to fix a global problem (and that’s exactly what the world is trying to do with carbon emissions) then the costs are global-scale too. The global market for carbon-saving products and services is just getting started. It was worth £3.2 trillion in 2008/09 and is Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services: an industry analysis Update for 2008/09 (2010) Available at: http://www.bis.gov.uk/projected to grow by 4% per year for the following five years. This spend is not projected to put us anywhere near to achieving global sustainability regarding climate change.

Digital tools; like social networks, online forums and online games, have a ‘cost of scale’ (the additional cost of supplying a wider audience) that is There are externalities – like the energy used on the individual’s computer or smartphone and the infrastructure cost of the internet – that mitigate against this to an extent that we have not quantified.near to zero.⁠ Engaging a million people with a digital tool like a smartphone ‘app’ costs only a little more than engaging ten thousand people. If carbon saving tools could be developed that are effective when delivered digitally at mass scale, it would provide a powerful spur to accelerate total carbon savings across society, as the audience for carbon saving grows into millions.

Behaviour change has the potential to be a powerful instrument for energy and carbon saving. The act of unplugging a phone charger might not save much energy, but routine behaviours have large energy impacts all the time: when at work, the habitual behaviours of train drivers, plant operators, security guards, pilots, chefs and other decision-makers all have massive carbon impacts that they are often unaware of.

The behaviours of groups, like procurement committees choosing between suppliers for a major construction project, are decisively impactful at an individual level. Popular conventions among staff (like printing documents for team meetings, where you sit when working late, or how you make tea for colleagues) also have substantial impact across populations.

Conventional energy and carbon saving workplace behaviour change programmes also have a linear cost of scale. Designed on a bespoke basis by internal teams or by skilled consultants, across large populations, they expend effort roughly in proportion to the size of the population they seek to engage. Addressing a variety of buildings and cultures requires a variety of behaviours and messages, and thus a huge variety of engagements — this increases costs and complexity. Across a large estate (like the UK Government estate), effective engagement using conventional approaches is extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive.

Digital tools have proven to be very effective at creating mass-market behaviour change in a number of domains, with, for example, millions of people checking Facebook accounts daily, and using tools such as Nike+ to help them keep to their exercise regimens.

This raises our question: given that certain behaviour changes can save substantial amounts of carbon and energy, could we create mass-market tools with the potential to help millions of people to save energy and carbon at much lower cost than has been achieved before?

The pilot was conceived to answer this initial question.

The opportunity to run this pilot with 1,000 civil servants at the Department of Energy and Climate Change as the test community had great advantages. We were able to have ongoing dialogue with and feedback from world-leading subject matter experts in all fields of energy and carbon.

A number of civil servants at DECC fulfill non- energy or carbon specific roles, and while this provides a mixed audience, we are conscious that it is not truly representative of an average UK workplace. With this in mind we were careful throughout to seek to both maximise engagement in the pilot, and make sure that the games and utilities we introduced would be applicable to other work environments. The driver for DECC to commission this work was precisely so that the results could translate into future deployments around the UK (and further afield).


It would be interesting to know the level of participation to this pilot among the civil servants at DECC fulfilling non- energy or carbon specific roles, to see to which extent the “previous awareness” explains the success of the experience. And, following the same logic, to see which games have received the most attention of this “unbiased” population. …

solar energy penlas can capture the suns energy, to transfer to electricity hook the panel to a 12 volt voltage regulator and then to a automotive 12 volt battery.To use the electricity hook up a voltage regulator to the battery then hook a toggle switch to the voltage regulator positive wire feed, on the other end of the regulator hook up a 12 volt appliance or light bulb, grounded of course. …

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Before getting underway, we wanted to set up a few really accessible ways to connect with the project. Energy and carbon is all too often presented as a technically demanding topic, which can make some people feel excluded. To help everybody to feel comfortable with the project, we wanted to create some easy ways for people to ‘touch’ the subject that would feel open and welcoming.

Borrowing a word from advertising, we created ‘touchpoints’ for CarbonCulture at DECC. In advertising, a touchpoint is just a way that a campaign connects with a person, for example through TV or print advertisement, a website, or an on-pack promotion, with the ultimate aim of generating a purchase decision. In our case, we aimed to create the set of touchpoints that would best enable sustainable behaviour changes, as well as introducing ourselves to the audience.

The first thing was to invite people in. For that, we designed a ‘Postcard’ wall. This was a simple way of asking what the users thought could be done and pledges that they themselves would do. This resulted in a number of impressive pledges: one senior civil servant pledged not to fly at all (for business or pleasure) and kept to this claim until he moved to a job where business travel was essential.

We also asked people for their concerns about the project, and this gave us some critical input. Some people told us that they were worried about social pressure to do things they would find hard — for example users with less visible disabilities who could not use stairs told us they already felt pressure not to use the lifts, and did not want this to get worse.

People reacted really well to the postcard wall. We received over 300 responses out of a total population of around 1000 people, which was much higher than expected, and as much as ten times higher than achieved with ‘pledge walls’ with different designs that were tried in other Government departments around the same time. We used fun, playful and colourful imagery with illustrations of our CarbonCulture ‘peeps’ to make the tone friendly, and we noticed that some people had taken the cards and pinned them up in their workspaces. At times large crowds of people gathered around the postcards, reading what others had written and starting new conversations with each other about energy and carbon.

We followed this up with another exercise designed to get people thinking about what they could do, which was deliberately timed to follow the abstract suggestions of the postcard wall. Called ‘Arrows’, we kicked this off by walking throughout the building giving staff brightly coloured arrows and prompting them to identify carbon and energy saving opportunities and stick some of these arrows up, providing a highly visible precedent for others to join in with. An important aspect of the scalability of this approach was to demonstrate that this process was not entirely run by the CarbonCulture team, but rather that we could get the ball rolling, and the building occupiers could carry on and expand this process of identifying carbon and energy saving opportunities. As such, after a brief walk around the building, we left the brightly coloured arrows in common areas (kitchens) of each floor at 3-8 Whitehall Place.

The extremely bright and distinctively shaped arrows with hand-written notes on them drew people’s attention, and started more conversations about energy and carbon. While we were careful with the materials and processes used throughout the project, in this case we compromised and used a fluorescent dye that was oil-based (still on 100% recycled board), as we could not source a vegetable ink that would produce the visual impact that was required, and — if successful — could lead to greater savings through awareness than the savings made if we used a different type of dye.

The final piece of this foundation was setting up a way for people to see the impact of the changes that they were making. Real time feedback mechanisms (which are just ways of seeing the impact of your actions at the time you do them) are extremely important for learning. This is how we learn every physical skill we have. Therefore, we built a system that shows how the building uses energy every five seconds, and put it on a display in the lobby, on the DECC intranet homepage, and on the DECC public website homepage. This system is now in use across a range of Whitehall Departments, like Cabinet Office and a number of Corporates are in the process of setting it up too.

This display was carefully designed to be attractive and informative, using some of the same friendly visual language from the postcards and arrows. This proved to be very valuable for helping to create recognition for the project. Although we did not specifically ask for feedback on it at this early stage — intending it more to provide context — it quickly attracted attention from staff and the general public, and people used the feedback facilities we had built to provide us with comments, questions and suggestions about the energy use in the buildings. We worked with the Sustainability and Estates team at DECC to respond to these, and to create some answers to ‘frequently asked questions’ on the DECC CarbonCulture page.

These initial activities provided a grounding for the beginning of the user-centred design process that would form the basis of the rest of the project.


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The design and development approach of this project has been one of the most interesting and impressive features to our academic partners and other external audiences, most particularly the project’s use of user-centred design. It was very clear from the outset that delivering CarbonCulture at DECC would be a very dynamic and radical innovation process, and we needed to use the right design tools to make this work.

While the core structure and principles of the project were clear, we knew that we would discover new opportunities, tools and methods through investigations that would only bear fruit once the project was well underway. We would not be able to clearly state the outputs or their intended effects at the outset of the project.

The approach comprised a broad range of design and process tools; however, there are only a few established design methodologies that cover them all (with some overlap). These are: user-centred design, sustainable design, interdisciplinary design and evidence-based design. User-centred design allowed us to put staff at the centre of the process. By collecting their unique knowledge of the context of the building and the culture, we were able to create better-fitting solutions than any external experts could create alone.

User-centred design is a great way of reducing risk on highly innovative projects, as new ideas are tested and iterated with users towards a successful outcome that meets user needs. When developing software (as, in some parts of the project, we were) the popular Agile Development methodology is a critical part of user-centred design. Any design failures can be identified early in the process and changes made before substantial effort is spent on, for example, engineering them to production quality.

At the same time, including users in the process and acknowledging the value of their input helped us to build awareness and engagement with the project, ensuring that it did not feel like a mandatory ‘top-down’ programme where staff were told what to do without reference to their wishes.

Sustainable design covers a range of ways to consider the sustainability impact of a project. In a pilot like ours, the direct impacts were small but, as we were designing with the potential for massive scale, we carefully considered the materials and processes that would be required for massive deployment, and treated these considerations as integral to the design.

Although these could be changed for a larger deployment, we considered the production processes for print and web. We used 100% recycled paper and vegetable inks where possible, and served the CarbonCulture digital platform from a 100% renewable-powered server farm. This was less about direct impacts and more about market transformation.

Interdisciplinary design is useful in many projects, where it produces better innovation outcomes at lower risk. Within the core team we had designers, researchers, engineers and technologists. We also worked with social media, gamification, behavioural economics, engineering and policy experts, and collaborated with experts across government and industry. We used these expertise in workshops to bring DECC staff into the design process, framing simple success metrics and providing input data, and enabling them to fully participate in the design process at key moments.

Evidence-based design is the practice of collecting and evaluating data as early as possible to influence the direction of development, once a basic design has been created. Where a user-centred design process builds on qualitative data and insights from conversations and user-testing, evidence-based design seeks to test the empirical success of a design solution to allow systematic improvement over time. We built the platform to collect data that will enable evidence-based design to drive the continuous improvement of the tools in future iterations.

To set goals for the project in advance of the initial research stages, we set central success metrics for the project. The central metrics were about user engagement, where we set out to gain awareness among 40% of the total population of 1000, attract 10% of this population to voluntarily sign up to the programme, and to achieve repeat engagement in 4%. These targets were extremely ambitious for a pilot of this type, and the project eventually produced results that out-performed them substantially, with 40% voluntary sign up and 17% repeat engagement. As the voluntary sign up results actually reached our target for awareness, we can safely state that the overall awareness also exceeded our targets.


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A critical factor that must be considered in any workplace change process concerns the host organisation and the extent to which it is organisationally capable of accepting and supporting such a process. At DECC, the project had some diligent and capable internal sponsors.

These people were absolutely invaluable to the project, helping us to steer around issues that could have become obstacles time and time again. Over the course of the project, we built up an extraordinary level of trust with our DECC partners, which gave us the freedom we needed to rapidly iterate new design and new language.

We found that we were working with many different teams within DECC — with IT, Communications, Sustainability and Estates, International Climate Change, Strategy and many others. It is rare for a project to have so many different relationships with different stakeholders within an organisation, and the CarbonCulture at DECC blog was important for keeping people on the same page without using up too much time on multi-stakeholder meetings.

We would have loved to have been able to spend more time with the DECC staff who got involved in the project. Particularly, people from the Economics team and the Science team were enthusiastic about helping us to validate assumptions and models using their unique expertise. The project benefited hugely from their informal input, but in future we would scope in budget for their time.

Since the project was sponsored from relatively low-down in the organisation, we occasionally needed to secure senior support, which produced a substantial amount of unforeseen work in the creation and maintenance of project documents. We found a great deal of willing support from across the organisation, from the Management Board to Union representatives and representatives of staff with special needs and accessibility requirements.


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Physical opportunities

A key part of any efficiency improvement process is to map the physical opportunities for improvement. Every single building in the UK and the physical systems within them have a unique set of constraints on what its occupiers can do to save energy and carbon. For example, there is little point in engaging people around not using the lifts in an estate of buildings where some of them might be arranged entirely on one floor.

We mapped the physical opportunities within DECC to guide the workshop process. We wanted to bring sound underpinning of building physics to steer this process toward success, but also to put the building users at the very centre of it. Beyond, we wanted to find out from the building users which were the best opportunities — from their point of view — to save energy and carbon.

We started with some work done before at DECC, including an energy evaluation report put together by the Usable Buildings Trust. We built on this with measurements and modelling of, for example, refrigerator and computer workstation energy use, giving us the numbers we needed to communicate more context to users.

From previous experience, we have learned that people without specific expertise will often enthusiastically suggest energy-saving ideas that might not save much, if any, energy. This is not a bad thing, and actually encouraged early stage engagement, from which we took these non-expert users on a natural learning journey and retained their attention. While DECC is populated in part by energy and carbon experts, a large number of users have non- energy or carbon specific roles.

For example, many suggestions came in about using the stairs rather than lifts, and in DECC’s case we noted from the building evaluation that the impact would be minor. Some suggestions came in about installing kinetic flooring which — while having some value as a awareness-raising tool — would not make any significant impact in DECC’s overall energy use.

This provided an opportunity to share information among the community. All of the several-hundred questions that were asked received a response from DECC’s Sustainability and Estates team in a document that was distributed through DECC’s internal communications channels.

Having collected from DECC staff the measures that they could think of, we ran some numbers over the suggestions. In line with the ambition of the trial, we did not attempt to run full life-cycle evaluations of potential behaviour changes (which would have been too expensive to justify) but instead estimated impacts using a few alternative modelling approaches to arrive at a reasonable number.

We had deliberately not set a clear scope on where savings could be made, which led to a wide variety of scopes being revealed by users. Some included travel and food impacts, and some focussed on direct savings in the building. Some targeted education and some were more action-based, and some were purely physical changes. Some suggestions revealed an opportunity to communicate better how the building already worked, like the suggestion of installing LEDs in the lifts (which had in fact already been done) or heating the building less in the summer (the building is not heated in the summer, when substantial energy is spent cooling it).

One striking feature of this part of the process was the way in which users responded to our request for challenges and concerns. In DECC’s 3-8 Whitehall Place Headquarters, the greatest of these was the air-conditioning. A good number of users reported feeling either too hot or too cold, and we had many conversations about the reasons for this and what might be done about it — even when users just saw one of us in the cafeteria. We determined that providing a complete fix for this would stretch the scope of the project, but wanted to engage with the subject. The purpose of Thermopeople was to address this massive priority for users, and start to investigate how it could be addressed in a future project.


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Cultural opportunities

The technical set-up of a building provides all the information required for conventional technical measures, like deciding whether to upgrade the boilers or the chillers for best effect. However, as our purpose was to drive engagement behaviour change in a real community (or, at least, a collection of communities and individuals who share a building), we knew that we needed to understand the cultural context.

In the same way as one can map a specific physical opportunity space to make savings in a particular kind of building — which might have lifts, forced ventilation and manual lighting controls — in every building there is a specific cultural opportunity too. This means: what would people be willing to do in these places that would save energy and carbon, and what might motivate them to do that?

While some people told us that they would like to compete with each other, others told us that they would like opportunities to collaborate. It was clear that a small but committed group of people were taking carbon-saving actions and would like to do more, and were asking for better information about what the most effective actions were to take. Some users told us they would only take part if the carbon saving activity made their lives — or their jobs — easier. Some users told us they would take part in actions if there were treats or rewards available, with one user suggesting that rewards could be given to a favourite charity.

Some users told us that they were already taking some action (for example, climbing the stairs or cycling to work) and did not feel the need to take on any other actions. Others told us they had been taking action before, but gave up as they felt others weren’t joining in.

A few users expressed the view that all efforts should be focused on decarbonising the national grid rather than changing energy using behaviour. However, we did not receive any feedback that came from an explicitly ‘climate sceptic’ point of view.

As mentioned previously, one user expressed concerns about feeling social pressure to conform to carbon-saving behaviours; for example, being under pressure not to use the lift. Several users told us that they did not want to be ‘told what to do’ regarding carbon-saving behaviours, feeling that they would be happier taking action on their own initiative.


Everything we do requires engrey. Energy mainly comes from compounds that have carbon in them. Reducing your carbon footprint means essentially to live your life while requiring less carbon-based engrey. Therefore, using solar power reduces your dependence on electric power plants that burn fossil fuels (creating carbon dioxide and carbon soot).Buying local produce will reduce the amount of vehicle traffic that burn diesel or gas for power (that carbon dioxide again). You can eat less too, but there are limits.Using recycled paper reduces the amount of trees/live organic material cut down (organic material is full of carbon) to allow us to write.Recycled steel removes the need to mine and purify iron ore, saving electricity and fuel to process.Just remember, your footprint cannot be zero (you breathe out carbon dioxide too), and on top of that, you should (your choice) live a productive life, so at some point, it's not about the size of your footprint, but the value generated per unit of carbon processed.hope that helps. …

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Technical architecture

The central ambition of the project was to increase the number of people who could be engaged in carbon-saving behaviours while reducing the cost, creating engagement at large scale. The technical architecture is critical for achieving this, and was already largely designed as the CarbonCulture Platform. During CarbonCulture at DECC, we developed the platform further on the basis of user research at DECC.

Cost of scale was a critical design consideration. The pilot only ran in one building to test the concept, yet we considered in every design decision how delivery cost would be impacted if the platform and tools are deployed in tens of thousands of buildings. Therefore, the technical architecture was designed to make use of resources that are typically already available in workplaces — the computers people use for their work, the display screens that are often placed in lobbies and cafeterias and the phones many people carry in their pockets. It was also designed to make minimal use of additional resources, such as consultants visiting each building and expensive special-purpose technology.

At the centre of the technical architecture is the collection and processing of empirical sustainability performance information. The intent is to collect data from every site in which a campaign runs, allowing it to be adjusted ‘in-flight’. Data is collected directly from the gas and electricity meters in the building, processed and aggregated in real time to become public carbon reporting almost instantaneously, with about five seconds delay ‘from basement to browser’.

While accepting this very high quality data, the platform also works with the half-hourly data available from metering now being deployed across the UK (as a result of the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme and L2 building regulations), or even with irregular data from manual reads.

We also collected information about how people use CarbonCulture itself, how often they log in and how often they take particular actions and make particular claims (for example, how often someone claims that they cycle into work).

This data drives interfaces that are made available to users through a set of ‘touchpoints’ that have been very carefully designed to be as engaging as they can possibly be, while being cost-effectively deployable at large scale across large estates. This means using digital distribution. The architecture allows for a few different touchpoints, some for use at people’s desks, some in lobbies and coffee areas and some for use when people are out-and-about, or at home. By letting users log in and presenting each user with their own unique view onto the platform, we found we could tailor the experience to each user, without the costs that are normally involved in delivering customised engagement.


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Cultural architecture

Complementing the technical architecture, the ‘cultural architecture’ is the structure of all the visual and experience design approaches, tone of voice, incentives and propositions that we have used to attract people to the platform and tools, making them attractive and rewarding to use. The core intent of the engagement architecture is building value and removing barriers for the maximum number of users.

A large number of users were attracted to the platform by the points and prizes, which operate as an overarching benefit that applies to all the tools and most of the actions, and encourage trying out of additional tools. We found that there were actually many distinct kinds of user motivations going on around points and prizes — some people were motivated by the competitive aspect of winning more points than other people, some by the individual pleasure of acquiring points consistently, some were motivated by getting prizes and some by giving money to charity. Many different kinds of users felt satisfied in different ways while using the tools.

The prizes mechanism was not designed to operate like a shop, where you spend money and buy products, but more like a game where you can shoot for prizes when you have enough points. On the one hand, this allowed us to present prizes more as a treat than a purely transactional ‘bribe’, which could reduce the transferability of behaviours when users are in places where prizes are not available. Also, this mechanism enabled us to leverage the prize value and reduce the cost of delivering prizes. It created some races between users who were after the same prize, striving to get as many points (by doing as many different actions) as quickly as possible. The number of users who were principally motivated by prizes was small though, and we believe that the value of incentives — in the pilot, approximately £3.50 per employee per year — could have been higher than necessary to drive savings. Further experimentation will help to establish optimal levels for different audiences.

The idea of allowing different propositions to attract different groups of users was key to attracting more users. Defra (2008) A Framework for Pro-environmental Behaviours.While some people are attracted to ‘green’ propositions, across the UK many people actively avoid them⁠. While the tools could have had a purely eco-focussed proposition, in the end all but one of the tools that we built during CarbonCulture at DECC focussed on a different user benefit. Some people wanted to adopt a habit of having healthier lunches, while some were more interested in a comfortable evening workspace. The architecture allowed us to build different tools that would each attract a specific ‘segmentation’ of the audience.

Freedman, J. L. & Fraser, S. C. (1966) Compliance without pressure: the foot in the door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.We found that many people who had been attracted by the idea of one tool started using others regularly as well. The overall shape of the uptake showed that launching a new tool would attract new users to the platform, who would go on to use all the tools. As the platform grows, it will be possible to make large numbers of tools, so that each offers a specific benefit to attract users who might not initially be attracted to other tools or the platform in general.

Two very important factors were the visual language and the tone of voice. We were very conscious from our research that the tone would be critical for engaging people — and could also be a powerful way of alienating them. We designed the platform to accommodate different brands and tones within the tools so that some could be straightforwardly fun, while others could feel more serious and businesslike.

While individual tools are targeted to distinct segmentations of users, the platform needed to feel attractive — or at least palatable — to everybody. This was one of the hardest challenges we took on, and we designed a style for the core platform that was as neutral as possible while still having character.

The design of the platform was quiet enough not to override individual tools, and simply set out to humanise energy and carbon. This was achieved with open and simple language, the use of cute characters (‘peeps’) showing people how to use the platform, playful avatars and informal language for the tools themselves. People responded very warmly to this look and feel. We noticed people had pinned up postcards of the CarbonCulture peeps and several of the CarbonCulture mugs that we left in the fifth floor kitchen disappeared to the homes (we assume) of enthusiastic users.

We found a strong distinction between perceived ease-of-use and actual ease-of-use, particularly with Scrunch, where there was a powerful perceived barrier around sleeping and moving a DECC laptop. The process for doing this efficiently was not widely known, leading to a delay in work that could stretch to fifteen minutes when having to move a computer. When we consulted DECC’s IT department, we discovered it was possible to move a laptop from desk to desk in a few seconds (we put instructions out on a cute little leaflet and a blog post). Many users reacted to this extremely well — and some started scrunching on the basis of how useful that information had been.


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