Exploring how tech can help people to cut carbon, save money and live smarter at home

Did you know that 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from households? With many people spending more time at home due to the pandemic, saving money on bills and doing our bit for the environment at home is more important than ever.

In December 2020, Hubbub partnered with BT to carry out a three-month challenge with 61 households to explore how technology can help people to cut carbon emissions, save money and live smarter at home.

A diverse group of UK households came together as an online community to try out a series of challenges and technology including apps, smart home tech and other tips to manage their energy, food and water use. Each group were supported through visiting experts and had a £50 voucher to spend on smart tech.

The difference we made

The households who took part in the trial ranged from the tech savvy to the self-confessed technophobe and collectively they tried out 448 new actions, from trialling smart lighting or plugs, to turning the heating down one degree, to using their phones or smart speakers for planning meals. Many are now using tech to help run their home, and 76% of households say they plan to stick with the changes they’ve made.

Looking at popular actions, we were able to measure the carbon footprint of 7 actions and see how this might help others. We found an average household could save 1.7 tonnes of CO2e over a year, which is 6.6% of the carbon reduction UK households need to make to play their part in achieving net zero by 2050.

We know UK needs to make big structural changes to achieve net zero but this shows the power that we have as individuals in reducing our carbon, through the small actions we take and the behaviours we change.

Hear the household’s stories

Kay, who lives with her husband and children, truly embraced the challenge: heating only the rooms she was using, curbing use of lights and appliances, planning food use, and taking fewer car journeys. She ordered a smart meter, bought a smart plug, smart power strip and LED lightbulbs. “I check the plug app like I check Facebook,” she told us. The community motivated her, gave her a space to ask questions and connect with like-minded people. She’s saving about £5 a week on petrol by walking to the shops and about £35 a week on food.

Archie, in his 20s, was looking for ways to make life easier and save money as he had a baby on the way. He was already using smart tech at home, and the project gave him the push to make greater energy savings, rather than using tech just for convenience. “My confidence was already high, but the project has changed my views of tech. Because before it was always more just for ease of use, but I never really thought about it from an energy perspective,” he told us. “It's definitely a shift in mindset.”

What we learnt

1) Simple actions can make a big difference

Households saw how simple steps can add up to big changes. Some felt empowered to go on to make further changes and embedded other sustainability habits into their daily lives.

2) Tech can help households reduce carbon emissions

Through visualising energy use, helping find ways to cut waste, set up new systems and prompts to manage their home, plus have fun and learn something new. However:

3) Tech isn’t affordable or accessible for everyone.

For example, smart home heating controls which cost around £200.

4) There is an important link between tech and non tech actions

Households took two and a half times more non-tech than tech actions, but the tech made many of the non-tech actions possible. For example:

  • Turning the thermostat down one degree. Tech empowered households to visualise energy usage, set routines, control heating remotely and be more conscious of their heating habits.
  • Reducing food waste. Tech made it easier to plan meals and brought inspiration through sharing tips and recipes online and group cook-alongs.

5) Community can help drive change

Most of the group were inspired to act from hearing genuine stories, ideas and advice from the other participants. One participant said ‘That community thing is really good. It gave us reassurance that we were doing good.' This helped change the social norm and make taking part more fun!

Want to know more?

Read the full impact report here.

Check out our 5 top tips for using tech to live more sustainably at home.