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: 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).

2 Responses to “Discussion”

  1. 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.


  2. 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.


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