Changing seasons

Time to change your energy saving behaviour?

While some of us may feel it never really got going, the UK summer is undoubtedly drawing to a close. The days are growing shorter and the mornings and evenings colder. For many of us, that means it’s time to think about putting the heating on – but that comes with both cost and environmental implications.

Consequently, many of us may look for other ways to save energy in our homes – from turning down the thermostat to making sure electrical items are switched off at the plug.

Whilst businesses may face the same concerns, energy efficiency is simply not a priority for many employees. Behavioural science research we carried out last year shows that more than twice as many people turn the thermostat down at home than do when they are in the office. Additionally, most people we surveyed had not even heard about their company’s energy saving practices.

Given that buildings alone account for nearly 40% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency should be a priority wherever we are, especially if collectively we want to meet the goal of reaching net zero carbon by 2050.

So how do we get people to change their workplace attitudes and behaviours? Last year, working alongside the Cardiff office of global real estate advisers Savills, we tested how a range of behavioural science theories can be used to change your employees’ habits and help reduce their energy use. We made use of “nudges”, which in behavioural science terms are small interventions, designed to prompt people into a different pattern of behaviour, such as switching a light off that may otherwise be left on.

The prompts varied from simple stickers above light switches reminding people to turn them off, to text above heating controls guiding employees to keep the temperature within an advised range to setting personal pledges and assigning energy ambassadors to keep people accountable. The nudges installed were all subtle and low cost to produce, coming in at less than £50 and can be altered relatively easily to fit another office environment.

These small and unobtrusive changes had little to no impact on day-to-day business activities but saw energy use fall by a massive 26%. When applied to the entire office, over the course of a year, this represents an energy saving big enough to run an office of 81 laptops for 8 hours a day for a year.

The experiment demonstrated the powerful role behavioural science can play in energy saving. While nudges may not fundamentally shift people’s sense of responsibility around energy efficiency at work, nor change their perception of climate change, they can influence behaviours leading to offices saving energy. If we extrapolate this out to office spaces up and down the country, the impact on our wider UK goal to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 could be significant.

To find out more about how you can harness the power of behavioural science download our energy saving guide and our energy saving toolkit.

Written by John Walsh

John Walsh has more than 20 years’ experience across the energy industry and currently leads a team of Strategic Account Managers in E.ON’s Business and Community Solutions division, building long term relationships with large industrial and corporate customers to help them improve their energy efficiency and stay competitive. John’s qualifications include Postgraduate Diplomas in Marketing from the University of Salford and in Management Principles from the JHA Academy.