Foreword by Paul van Heyningen — Head of Sustainability and Estates at DECC
This report tells the story of a project we have been hosting at DECC that seeks to unlock energy and carbon savings in workplaces through staff engagement and behaviour change. DECC partnered with design-for-behaviour-change specialists CarbonCulture, supported by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), to pilot an innovative, user-centred digital platform, intended to engage staff on sustainability issues.
CarbonCulture at DECC created an online space that can deliver behaviour change through developing and reinforcing community, and encouraging user engagement with fun and easy to use tools that appeal to wide audiences. The aim of this pilot has been to test the ability of this method to deliver user engagement, and to develop tools and approaches that could be taken up by large populations of building users across the UK at low cost.
There is still a lot of work to be done to meet the ambitious carbon reduction targets set by the UK Government — both for its own operations, and for the country as a whole. Adding high-performance behaviour change to our portfolio of approaches provides an opportunity for government and businesses alike to cut their energy bills. Through public engagement we can help create energy and carbon literacy, a key step in making further savings.
In this project we have made substantial progress in this fast emerging field of behaviour change. We have gained valuable insights, and revealed good practices that invite more investigation and show the path forward.
by Luke Nicholson — CEO and Founder of CarbonCulture
The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) saw the potential to provide value for the UK through behaviour change, and procured the CarbonCulture at DECC pilot as a proof of concept, offering a testbed of 1,000 civil servants at DECC’s Headquarters in Whitehall.
CarbonCulture introduced themselves to this community by beginning simple conversations about energy and carbon, asking what people thought and felt about saving energy, and inviting their ideas and pledges. Using simple, low-cost methods (like specially designed postcards) the input of hundreds of DECC staff was collected.
CarbonCulture at DECC was presented as a staff, or ‘user’ driven project through friendly and welcoming branding that was carried across all the communication touchpoints introduced to the building. These encouraged continued feedback from DECC staff throughout the process, which was integral to our user-centered design process.
We helped DECC staff to tell their stories about their own energy use. Together we identified the elements of their stories that drove their behaviour, so that we could reconstruct them into fun and easy online tools that help people to behave differently, and think differently about their behaviours.
The user-facing side of the CarbonCulture Platform delivered carbon-saving behaviours as games and utilities that were designed to attract people through their inherent usefulness, funness, and ease of use, supported by incentivisation through awarding points and (sustainable) prizes. For example, Scrunch used points and interaction to encourage users working late to move to one area of the building, reducing energy consumption in other areas. Foodprints visualised users’ lunchtime eating habits and motivated them towards a lower carbon and healthier diet. We used the platform to present the social proof of the community - showing the actions of others is a strong driver for getting more people involved in new actions, and helped us to communicate everyone’s progress.
Behind the scenes, the technical side of the platform simultaneously collected detailed empirical data about the energy and carbon performance of the building. In a full deployment, this will enable close analysis of the sustainability and cost impacts of behaviour change.
We got people’s attention and started talking to them about their energy use, turning it from something abstract into something tangible and understandable through real-time energy displays driven by live data. These sparked further conversation about how energy was being used, and introduced a sense of ownership over the peaks and troughs in the graphs that represent energy use. These real-time energy displays also enabled the DECC Sustainability and Estates team to optimise the building’s heating and cooling systems, for example identifying changes to water heating, which helped to achieve savings of 10% of gas use in less than a fortnight.
Read on to find out more!
Non-domestic buildings account for Technology Strategy Board (2009). User-centred design for energy efficiency in buildings: Competition for sandpit participants. Technology Strategy Board, Swindon.18% of the energy used in the UK. These include offices, schools, hospitals, and airports. The utility bills — and carbon emissions — of workplaces can be reduced very effectively with the support of the people working in them. The amount of energy used in these buildings is affected not only by the things people use but also by the way that they use them. It is well known that if people change their behaviour in certain everyday actions, they can Dietz, T. et al. (2009). Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. make substantial energy savings. Successful workplace behaviour change campaigns claim savings of over 10% of total energy demand, but no-one has found a way to reliably bring about workplace behaviour change across diverse audiences at low cost. CarbonCulture at DECC set out to find if we can help change that.
We looked at how people could be engaged in voluntary carbon saving behaviours which could attract more users by being fun, useful, and rewarding, reaching beyond just those people who already care most about sustainability.
If we could demonstrate in one building that it is possible to engage large numbers of people in carbon saving behaviours with tools that we know can be delivered at scale for a low cost, then we unlock an opportunity to deliver massive additional energy and carbon savings in buildings and organisations across the UK and beyond.
We worked with staff at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to identify and develop tools addressing a small collection of carbon saving behaviours to get started with. Together we looked at a number of behaviours and possible tools, developing three full tools that focus on behaviours around what people eat for lunch, how they get to work, and late night working spaces.
CarbonCulture at DECC was designed to test one central hypothesis: that it is possible to deliver high performance sustainability engagement that could scale to large populations at low cost.
Existing ‘high-performance’ engagement programmes achieve high uptake, but can come at a high cost-per-user — particularly in large complex organisations — conversely, ‘low-cost’ engagement programmes can be delivered with less resource but normally have low impact.
The technical architecture of the CarbonCulture platform allows for deployment at a large scale, and achieved comparable uptake to conventional ‘high-performance’ programmes, with projected cost-per-user close to the level of conventional ‘low-cost’ programmes.
The CarbonCulture at DECC pilot achieved uptake of 40%, and ‘repeat use’ of the tools by 16%, of the total building population. These levels of engagement are very high, whether measured against existing sustainability engagement programmes, wider-appeal user engagement programmes, or general-purpose web-based applications.
The pilot identified levels of user engagement within the overall uptake and retention, as different users were attracted or incentivised by different tools. These ‘segmentations’ illustrated that certain tools can be used to pull additional groups of users in at different points during the deployment. The order in which this is done can make a difference, helping to reduce costs, and to maximise overall engagement and use of all tools.
The technique of adding additional options over time led in each case to an uplift in participation numbers. We believe that this could provide a sustainable mechanism to attract and retain users over a long period of time by keeping them interested in fresh new tools, as well as attracting new staff to the platform.
The pilot has proven a valuable new way of driving engagement and adoption of behaviour change with sustainability outcomes. Modelling of the impact of these behaviour changes suggest that with a portfolio of games and utilities as behaviour change tools, savings delivered by this web-delivered mechanism could directly reduce around 10% of an organisation’s total carbon emissions. This would release direct savings in energy bills, and at a lower cost than is being achieved in current practice.
While the user-facing, cultural, side of the CarbonCulture platform has demonstrated its benefits in achieving user-engagement, the physical savings unlocked by the real-time data collection and visualisation (by identifying unnecessary or reducible energy consumption) were also high.
The technical side of the platform has proved invaluable for allowing users to visualise energy use, and to facilitate communication between building users and the facilities managers and other experts.
Within this pilot, the hypothesis that it is possible to deliver high performance sustainability engagement that could scale to large populations at low cost has been proven. We are now planning future developments, and we would love your input and involvement in these plans.
From the outset, we were hoping that CarbonCulture at DECC would create opportunities to apply our learning to wider audiences, and for further development and collaborations. Some new projects are already underway, and others are in development with corporate and government partners.
There have already been significant outcomes. The real-time energy displays and accompanying public engagement tools that we used to run the initial engagement with DECC staff have already been deployed across eight Whitehall departments, including Number 10 Downing Street, and we are now making them available to corporate leaders. At DECC, these tools alone helped facilities managers to identify efficiencies that delivered 10% gas savings, and we expect comparable savings to be unlocked elsewhere.
These tools will help organisations identify specific opportunities to access the maximum energy and cost savings within their businesses, as well as providing valuable input to our ongoing research on how to get maximum impact across a range of cultural and physical contexts.
The next stage of our research will be to build on the successes of the pilot by deploying the CarbonCulture platform on a larger scale and translating user behaviour changes into substantial measurable impacts on carbon emissions. We plan to run a series of development projects that will build on the work already done in the pilot to improve the performance of the CarbonCulture platform and tools. In collaboration with partner organisations, we will extend the tools already developed, as well as developing new ones.
To maximise the impact of this work, we have started a new social enterprise to host these collaborations and disseminate the benefits as widely as possible. CarbonCulture will provide large organisations – who are willing and able to pay for energy savings – with tools to enable them to save them millions of pounds per year. The revenues from this will enable us to make these world-class tools available to people and organisations who would otherwise not invest in carbon savings for many years to come.