Archive for the ‘Green’ Category

Green Homes Grants: the good news and the challenges ahead

July 10, 2020


When I heard the Chancellor announce a new Green Homes Grant scheme this week my ears pricked up. Over the last 12 years I’ve done research and strategy work, alongside the talented team at Behaviour Change, on how to get people to make their homes more energy efficient. Homes contribute about 40% to the UK’s carbon emissions and we cannot meet our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 without widespread improvements to how they are insulated and heated. Yet despite much talk, and a Government ‘Green Deal scheme’ available from 2013-15, little has changed.

So what’s different this time? The good news is that the new scheme involves grants: homeowners and landlords can apply for ‘vouchers’ of up to £5,000 (£10,000 for low income households) to fund up to 2/3 of the cost of energy-saving home improvements. This is in contrast to the previous Green Deal scheme, which required households to take out a form of a long-term loan to fund improvements, with repayments made via their electricity bill, in line with the amount they should save in energy costs. A grant is a much simpler and more palatable proposition.

Another big difference is that awareness and consideration could be much higher and more widespread this time. Many households are currently alert to the different forms of Government financial support that might be relevant to them personally, and seem more willing to trust what is available and apply quickly. Again this is in stark contrast to the Green Deal, which received almost no centralised marketing and was little known and not well trusted.

But will this scheme get enough impactful and sustained communication from its planned Sept launch onwards to cut through?  We know that that home energy efficiency improvements tend to be far from top of mind or high up people’s To Do lists, and this autumn many households will have a lot of other more pressing concerns.

I remain hopeful but there are major challenges to overcome if the scheme is to have any significant real world impact. Getting these kinds of home improvements planned, done and funded will be a complex process with multiple points at which people might decide not to bother. What needs to be done will vary from home to home: will assessment be carried out by someone trustworthy and independent from installers (as with the Green Deal scheme) and how will householders find such assessors? Then how do people find and select local companies who could do the recommended work and do those providers need to be accredited in some way for the grant to be approved? At what point is the grant received – will householders need to pay in full and then apply?

In many cases to get a step change in energy efficiency we’re talking about messy, expensive and disruptive changes like installing solid wall insulation or replacing windows or boilers. While many of us remain stuck at home how feasible will it be for people to face going through that upheaval?

And the scary fact that no-one is talking about: to seriously reduce carbon emissions from homes we need a lot of homes to stop using gas for heating and hot water. That’s right: goodbye to the gas boiler supplying your hot water and radiators. Will these grants apply to installation of ground or air source heat pumps or even hydrogen based systems? If this scheme can massively expand an understanding of and appetite for these newer systems from householders and landlords, and rapidly create a national workforce that can install them, it could be a game changer. However the scheme is reported to last for only one year, which makes it unlikely that it can do more than facilitate smaller wins around optimising insulation or double glazing.

How successful Green Homes Grants become will depend both on the big picture and the details: the big picture of branding and communication so that the scheme remains salient, understood and trusted over the coming months; and the details of what measures are covered and how friction-less each stage of the process can be.

Contact me or David Hall at Behaviour Change if you want to discuss further.

The world’s first low carbon restaurant

January 16, 2011

Being a sucker for all things green and someone who does a lot of work with restaurant brands, when hungry in Soho yesterday I decided to try Otarian, ‘the world’s first low carbon restaurant’, which I read a bit about when it opened recently. There are two in London and two in Manhattan.

otarian restaurant

 It’s totally veggie, because of the massive environmental impact of the livestock industry. Fair enough. And the food was really tasty – I had the Tex Mex burger and sweet potato fries and they tasted very fresh, handmade and high quality.

But it just didn’t quite work for me. The restaurant interior was very basic and ‘fast food’ yet my meal was £8.  There was no soul to it at all, and I don’t think that was just because they are quieter on the weekends. It feels like it’s trying too hard to make a point, and has failed to deliver the vital enjoyable atmosphere that makes you want to be there, and which is necessary to offset their worthiness.

They have lots of collateral explaining their point of view – for example:


I think the claims about how much carbon is saved if you just ate one Otarian meal a week, or if everyone switched to the Otarian version of a meat dish just once, are the right way to go: being realistic about how often people might go and not assuming our eating habits are about to suddenly transform. However there are also more extreme claims in their animated film along the lines of ‘if every American gave up meat the grain saved would feed Africa’. Well possibly but I think that strays into implying the brand is a too dark green for even the more enlightened lunch buyer.

I’m not sure they need to go as far as talking about how wheat-free they are or that their bouillon only contains natural ingredients. Or to have this kind of bollocksy stuff on their website as their vision:

“Otarian is based on my passion for, and dream of, a sustainable planet, and this vision is paramount to the concept and implementation of the Otarian philosophy. It is the tangible display of my hope in the intelligence of human kind to understand, accept and adapt to a more sustainable way.”
“We know that to save one life is to save a world entire; that one seed holds within the possibility of regenerating all the world’s forests.”

Plus as far as I understand it’s incredibly difficult to measure the carbon footprint of individual products so I feel rather sceptical about how they know the carbon footprint of my burger is 1.72kg which saves 0.83kg versus ‘a Tex Mex burger’ – presumably a meat one but which? 

Like so many brands I think Otarian has obsessed about the rational and the tangible and failed to understand the emotions of brand personality and the intangibles of brand experience. And has slightly disappeared up its own arse, which also often happens with owner-entrepreneurs.

Which is a shame because the food is good and their intentions undeniably laudable.  It feels like there’s an opportunity for a charming veggie version of Leon, with a total commitment to sustainability throughout their business and brand but without making offputting claims about being  ‘the world’s first low carbon restaurant’ or product-specific carbon savings. Perspective required.

A bloody provocation to do the green thing

October 4, 2010

Richard Curtis has written a very short film for the 10:10 climate change campaign, it features some famous people, it’s filmed by a top ad director … and it’s proved so offensive that it was taken out of circulation within a day. Except of course  YouTube still has a copy:

I’ve done quite a bit of work on green marketing, particularly with the Together and We Will If You Will initiatives which have done sterling work bringing together brands, third sector organisations and Government to collaborate on campaigns, rather than everyone do their own small-scale thing. For instance, the Eat Seasonably campaign to promote the eating of fruit and veg that’s in season and the Hug Your Home campaign to encourage home insulation:

Hug Your Home campaign image

From this work I know that complacency has set in amongst a large chunk of the mainstream population: I don’t mean the climate change sceptics but the big swathe of people who are dutifully recycling but doing little else. They say ‘I’m doing my bit’. Unfortunately that bit is not going to be anywhere near enough, so I do understand why 10:10 felt the need to make a provocative film that raises the profile of the debate.

However I think they’ve missed a trick by doing something ridiculously extreme and also simplistic.  According to 10:10 the brief was to provoke the sceptics who aren’t doing anything at all to take action, but I think this film fails on that level – it will alienate those people. To me the more interesting brief would have been: provoke those who are doing a little bit to appreciate that they need to do a lot more – to not just put their hand up but to actually change behaviour.

It’s not that there isn’t a place for humour or irony to engage people – Do The Green Thing regularly use that effectively and Together got a lot of coverage for their April 1st ‘Energy Wasting Day’:

But you have to be very careful to be funny in a knowing, inclusive way that stimulates involvement with a next step rather than being gratuitously shocking to get attention but not leading people anywhere constructive. Which is what I feel the 10:10 film is and does.

10:10 has been successful in creating a sense of a movement that is ‘cool’ to belong to but I worry that it doesn’t clarify clearly enough what it would take to reduce your CO2 emissions by 10%. It’s actually a tall order that won’t be achieved by recycling the inners from your loo rolls, but requires far more uncomfortable actions like reducing your car usage or not flying.