A partnership between BT and Hubbub worked with 61 diverse households to discover whether the use of smart technology could reduce carbon emissions.

The results revealed that, by implementing simple changes, participants achieved an average carbon reduction of 1.7 tonnes per household. If all UK households replicated these savings, it would deliver 6.6% of the amount that households need to reduce their emissions by to hit the UK’s Net Zero target by 2050.

The trial ran between December 2020 until February 2021. As a thank you for participating, households received a £50 voucher to be spent on smart tech Each household was interviewed at the start and end of the trial to see how their behaviour, attitudes and technology use had changed. The trial concentrated on four areas: heating and hot water, lighting and power, food and lifestyles (which included travel and tech repair).

Of the 61 households, 55 completed the trial. They collectively took 448 actions and 76% of them reported that these new behaviours and habits would stick in the long-term. The main changes were around home energy use including switching to renewable energy, turning down thermostats and switching off equipment, as well as reducing food waste. The broader lifestyle changes were less popular.

The campaign revealed the importance of using proven behaviour change techniques and highlighted the role that companies can play to help employees and customers reduce carbon emissions.

Proven behaviour change techniques

To help the households act, Hubbub delivered a structured programme of support to track which elements were most effective in helping households to make changes. This revealed the importance of five elements.

1) The importance of being in a mutually supportive group

Hubbub set up a closed Facebook Group for participants and offered Facebook Live sessions with expert speakers. This allowed people to share experiences, provide tips/guidance and offer encouragement, to change the social norm. On completion of the trial, participants reported that being part of a wider group was highly motivational.

"It made me feel like I wasn't alone to see other like-minded people on the Facebook group. People who want to save the environment."  Male, 50-59 years old 

"That community thing is really good. It gave us reassurance that we were doing good." Male, 50-59 years old

2) Visualisation

If people can visualise the overall impact of their actions, it can give the impetus needed to change habits. Smart technology, such as smart heating controls, energy supplier apps and smart meters can provide this visualisation enabling people to easily see levels of expenditure on energy and water bills and help prioritise where to start.

"Tech gives you sight of things you can't easily see. So, we can't see energy being used other than the lights on… And that's what the tech can do. That's what's helped me. As soon as I saw it, I didn't need to see it again, as I’d been convinced."  Female, 40 – 49 years old. 

3) Nudge

Most participants reported that it was gentle nudges (through the challenges and their tech) to change specific behaviours that enabled them to see the benefits of small actions and encouraged them to go further.

"It's a house of cards effect – once you spot one thing that's not right, it trickles down into other things." Male, 30-39 years old. 

4) Positive feedback

The ability of technology to offer immediate, salient feedback enabled people to quickly see the benefits of any changes they made. This positive reinforcement rewards their efforts, increasing the chances of the new habits sticking in the long-term. Positive feedback also came from sharing their progress with others in the group.

"I learned that 10% of my energy bill is from my phantom load, meaning my idle electricity over the year is pretty much a full monthly cost, and until Loop came about I had no idea." Male, 40-49 years old. 

5) Convenience

Suggested actions had to be relatively easy to implement, not too costly and fit easily into daily routines. Participants found that smart tech offered these advantages. Saving time and gaining control of one’s home was a common motivator to act, especially for those with busy lives.

"The more tech does, the less I have to do and the less I have to think about, and the more I can focus on fun things."  Male, 40-49 years old.

"Smart radiator valves helped us switch off the radiators in the bedrooms and put them on a timer…that’s been really helpful." Female, 40-49 years old.

The role of businesses

The trial revealed how important businesses can be in encouraging employees and customers to change behaviour. Business intervention was welcomed and seen as a positive step.

"I've used BT as an internet provider before and would rate them as OK. This project has given me more awareness of how they are contributing to helping people and the environment so I would say I view them more positively now." Non-binary, 30-39 years old.

This intervention must be authentic, strategic and carefully structured. There were several key learnings for companies wishing to follow this route.

Authenticity

Businesses need to lead by example showing that their own house is in order before encouraging others to do the same. They also need to be careful that the intervention is not viewed as a sales campaign operating in a green coat. This can be done by offering wider guidance and support.

Highlight the benefits

People responded to personal benefits helping them to save money and improve the quality of their life as well as the wider environmental benefits.

Create a structured campaign

Campaigns need to incorporate a range of proven behaviour change techniques including creating a community, offering expert, tailored advice and regular nudges. Using communication alone is unlikely to deliver a long-term change in habits.

Make it fun

Participation should be enjoyable, with clear benefits. This can be achieved through making the campaign social, introducing challenges, rewarding achievements, and using tech to add a playful element.  

Be inclusive

The campaign needs to offer something to people in all living circumstances and life stages – including those who might not be able to afford smart technology, and those who would not class themselves as ‘environmentalists’. 

Get in Touch

Hubbub is developing a wide range of expertise in delivering these structured behaviour change programmes having now worked with IKEA and Tesco as well as BT. If this could be relevant for your business, please email [email protected]