“It has to seem normal. People don’t want to hear that they have a responsibility to save the planet. They should just be using less energy and water because it makes sense.”
Mark Sait, the chief executive of SaveMoneyCutCarbon, says that despite the key role the utilities sector has played in the decarbonisation journey, it is still falling short on one very key metric – communicating with customers on their role in the process.
The company, which was recently the first recipient of funding from Barclays’ Sustainable Impact Capital initiative, has just released the first findings from what is intended to be a series of consumer surveys on energy and water use.
It shows that while 66 per cent of those polled have a smart meter, 85 per cent are still unaware of how much electricity they are using.
Sait, a long-time critic of smart meters, says this shows a disconnect between efficiency measures favoured by utilities companies and the actual behaviour of consumers.
He says that the survey of 2,600 respondents shows an overall mixed picture of willingness to change behaviour to cut consumption. While c50 per cent of people will unplug a charged laptop while working on it, 75 per cent leave laptops, phones and tablets on to charge overnight. Just over 60 per cent choose showers over baths but 30 per cent of those who do have baths do so every single day.
It shows that 1.2 per cent of respondents own an electric vehicle, and 3.2 per cent a hybrid. Penetration for solar panels is slightly higher at 6.2 per cent, with more than two thirds (69.7 per cent) saying they had these installed rather than moving into a home with panels already in place.
Going beyond the first adopters
According to Sait, the groundwork has been laid by the current high profile of the climate change debate but that it is not necessarily translating into individual behaviour change.
He says: “The Greta effect was already moving the dial towards a mass understanding of the issues, and coronavirus has perhaps sharpened that. There has always been that segment of society who would be interested in the latest water or energy saving device and were in the market for an EV but to make any meaningful difference you’ve got to reach beyond the early adopters to make all of this seem normal.
“That’s where utilities as a sector have an almost unparalleled opportunity in that they serve the entire population. They have a huge ability to influence behaviour and knowledge.
“So far, they haven’t been very successful in that.”
Asked about the reasons for this struggle to land the message, Sait says it is “partially an issue of trust”, with utilities seen as primarily been out for profit.
He adds: “For me, what is fundamentally wrong with a competitive market like energy supply is that all the companies are rewarded on supplying more – from the salesperson to the chairman, they are all incentivised to get more. Until we break that, we won’t get any real change.
“When I talk to chief executives of utilities companies about reducing carbon, they get it and they make all the right noises. But when you get down to the sales teams, it’s just not a priority.”
Water is the missing link
Sait launched SaveMoneyCutCarbon in 2012 with a goal of being a single platform for homes and organizations who want to reduce their energy and water consumption, while improving their carbon footprint and sustainability credentials.
The company claims to have saved saved over 727 million litres of water and 23 million kWh of energy in that time – delivering a carbon reduction of 6,765 tonnes per annum.
Sait says the inclusion of water consumption within the green agenda is nowhere near prominent enough.
“The understanding of the link between energy and water seems to be missing from a lot of carbon conversations. Quite apart from the need to protect a natural resource, water’s impact just doesn’t feature in calculating carbon footprints.”
In terms of attitudes towards water saving, the survey shows that just under half (44.5 per cent) have water meters.
He adds: “The water issue isn’t resonating with the public and that’s partly because it’s out there on its own. It’s not linked to the wider debate. You’d have to look very hard in all the millions of articles that are written about the environmental challenge to find much mention of water. You could say the same for the green agenda being put out by big corporates.”
Last week saw the publication of a government study of public perceptions, which revealed widespread ignorance of the term “net zero”. This comes as no surprise to Sait, who says: “It’s a phrase that trips of the tongue of the CEOs but it means very little to people and so it’s not doing anything to actually stimulate behaviour change. Fixating on the 2050 date is also just switching people off.
“ESG being on the corporate agenda does actually seem to be translating into action but with net zero there are a lot of warm words but the detail seems to e lacking.”
Evolving energy supply market
The survey shows how the energy supplier landscape has radically changed with respondents using a range of 39 suppliers, from large established companies to challenger brands. A majority (66.9 per cent) had last changed provider more than 6 months ago, with most choosing a new supplier through comparison sites (68.9 per cent).
The top factors in choosing a supplier were listed as:
- Customer service
- Renewable energy
SaveMoneyCutCarbon’s initial poll is the first phase of a five-year ongoing survey, designed to track the usage of energy and water in the home, homeowners’ awareness of how to reduce their usage and the impact this can have on their carbon footprint.