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CHANGING ENVIRONMENTA Luke Nicholson, Founder and Director, CarbonCulture


fter achieving impressive savings across their estate in the last year, Government has now committed to even more ambitious carbon emissions reductions targets for 2015. In order to meet these targets, innovative and cost- effective ways need to be found to help people and organisations to cut their bills. In principle, the energy going into workplaces should be providing people with benefits like comfort, productivity and convenience. Technical improvements – like improved insulation or more efficient lighting – allow these benefits to be produced more efficiently.

But this is only half the answer: how much energy we consume depends absolutely on the way that people use buildings and equipment, how we choose to travel and what we find comfortable. In any building where technical improvements can reduce emissions and cut costs, there’s a whole other domain of savings available that can only be accessed by engaging with the rich mix of people who use that building every day to do their work.


The technical side of making savings is where many organisations are focusing their efforts, and there is much less attention being paid to the cultural side. There are good reasons for this – most organisations don’t know how to approach culture change without extremely expensive and time-consuming interventions. Traditional approaches to pro- environmental behaviour change can be effective, sometimes reporting savings of over 10%, but they are expensive and what’s more, the cost increases in line with the size of the population. Since these projects rely on support from consultants, careful professional leadership and so on, the cost for a large population can become extremely high – too high to justify given the savings available. The answer lies in digital media.

Digital media offers us some powerful new ways to share information and stimulate collaboration, and one of its most notable properties is the cost of scale: The cost of sharing tools on the internet – when done right – can be incredibly low; so low that it can even be


made free. If we can make a digital tool that works well to help people save energy in one building, then potentially, we could share it with everyone across a whole estate, or everyone on the internet, at very low cost.

Digital platforms provide opportunities to help expert users like building managers to reduce costs through higher quality performance data, transparency and information sharing. Across Whitehall, departmental headquarters are publishing ‘real-time’ energy and carbon data. In one building CarbonCulture’s real-time energy display or Carbon Reporting app, allowed the building operators to access a 20% reduction in daytime gas use within a couple of weeks – representing real carbon and cost savings. As well as the digital agenda,

government has been championing a new approach to public policy based on ‘nudge’ theory – this has applications in healthy eating, choosing public services, reducing red tape. Nudge is based on a set of insights from behavioural economics, many of which can be applied to help people save energy and carbon.

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