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.

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