Carbon psychology: 10 ways to change behaviours and keep energy costs under control

Ahead of edie's Effective Energy Management Conference, we have enlisted the expertise of a 'carbon psychologist' to bring you 10 innovative, non-technical methods to change behaviours, improve energy efficiency and reduce consumption.

A psychological approach to energy management can alter employees' energy habits and help an entire company embrace more efficient ways of working

A psychological approach to energy management can alter employees' energy habits and help an entire company embrace more efficient ways of working

According to Phil Griffiths, carbon psychologist at npower Business Solutions, psychology can be used by businesses to understand the drivers that underpin how staff behave, and therefore formulate plans to reduce energy usage and increase the bottom line.

Griffiths, who joined the firm in April 2015, claims to have delivered £26m of savings for businesses npower Business Solutions has worked with so far, with behaviour change saving businesses an average of 9% on their energy costs.

“It often surprises businesses to find out that non-technical savings are usually greater than technical savings,” said Griffiths. “Through learning about your energy habits, it is easy to make subtle, low-cost and effective changes to help keep down your energy bills. It’s already produced clear and proven benefits for firms, big and small, saving businesses we have worked with over £26m.”

With behaviour change forming a big part of the day’s agenda at edie’s Effective Energy Management Conference in Birmingham on 20 April (full details below), Griffiths has supplied us with his 10 top tips for businesses to make subtle, low-cost and effective changes to energy management.

1) Avoid all seeds of doubt

Doubt is the enemy of any behavioural project; accurate measurement systems need to be put in place, along with a sophisticated form of reporting. As an industry, there is an over-reliance on self-reporting measures which is often unreliable and can lead to risky and flawed recommendations. Projects must be data driven and focused on tangible and scalable energy savings rather than theoretical models and projected figures.

2) Measure the behavioural 'constructs'

There are generally two different ways of tackling energy loss; an HR style campaign or more ‘psychological’ behavioural campaigns. The latter is generally more successful, as it allows for a clearer analysis of where the problems reside, as well as identifying which behavioural drivers need to be adjusted. This enables you to select interventions based on scientific evidence as opposed to throwing as many projects as possible at the problem. If CAPEX is limited, this approach is not possible.

3) Use all of the scientific tools at your disposal

We regularly use quantitative and qualitative methods, both separately and combined. This enables us to verify our measurements and observations. For example, we often compare the results from a thematic analysis - through interview data - with results from semantic questionnaires. This ensures a greater likelihood of truthful results and leads to an increased intervention success rate.

4) Awareness and feedback is critical

Some research claims that awareness raising is not that effective, and that people are irrational with regards to how they make decisions. However, in the industrial and commercial field we have found raising awareness via dashboards can have a positive effect. The dashboard can start out as an awareness campaign to influence attitudes but can easily turn into a useful feedback tool if simple KPI’s are attached (i.e. what constitutes a bad, OK and great day with reference to energy use).

5) Secure buy-in and trust at the highest level

Trust is essential to the success of energy-saving initiatives and senior leaders need to have confidence in the credibility and value of the data they receive. Best practise is to anonymise behavioural data, so that clients can still derive its value without identifying individuals. Unfortunately, politics is a part of business and so you need to make sure that you have all of your key stakeholders on board.

6) Build a team around you

It is exceptionally difficult for one person to both create and deliver a programme of energy management. Accept that you cannot do it all and that sharing the workload is essential. npower offers its own Energy Management Qualification, to help energy managers learn more and get accredited. Through building dynamic teams around each behavioural intervention, you can create the momentum you need to tackle the issues impacting your business.

7) Do not ignore other KPIs

Energy consumption is of course a hugely important KPI. However, truly successful programmes go beyond this to look at the other inefficiencies that feature within production, such as quality, cost, waste and production throughput. Looking at this process as a whole (through Lean and Six Sigma Principles) can highlight considerable opportunities for secondary energy savings.

8) Nudge rather than nag

Whilst one option is to put a single person in charge of compliance, this can only get you so far. An assigned energy supervisor cannot be everywhere at once and people often resent being repeatedly told what to do. The use of ‘nudging’, to change behaviour, will have a longer lasting effect, which will be maintained even without supervision.

9) Embrace your fieldwork

Accept that you are in a business, not a laboratory, and that there will sometimes be variables that are difficult to control. Use all of the tools science can offer, but you cannot employ ‘one-size-fits-all’ models; you need to ensure they match your environment.

10) Use bias to your advantage

There are many biases that can adversely skew your results; however they can be used to your advantage if you are aware of them. When people know they are being studied and when they are told they will save energy, we often see savings before our projects even commence. As long as you are able to identify this ‘placebo and observer' effect, you may find that the process of being audited alone can lead to positive results and give your project a head-start.

Edie Effective Energy Management Conference

From ambitious behaviour change and employee engagement programmes through to cost-effective technology upgrades and on-site solutions, organisations are always looking for the best measures to improve their energy efficiency.

The fifth annual edie Effective Energy Management Conference - taking place on 20 at the Holiday Inn Birmingham City Centre - will explore and showcase the most innovative ways to reduce consumption, increase efficiency and minimise your bottom line.

Find out more about the Conference and register to attend here.

Luke Nicholls


behaviour change | Energy Efficiency | Engagement | low carbon


Energy efficiency & low-carbon
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