Doing it better

Below is a post I wrote for the Behavioural Design Lab a short time ago. The aspect that has attracted the most interest is the use of proposed use of defaults to move from a project management-centric view (where residents make a fresh decision at each stage of the process that has been mapped out) to a citizen-centric approach (where, once someone has chosen to have a warm home, the default is that they are taking part.

Two quick points, drawing on conversations that I’ve had with people since writing this.

First, this is a really good litmus test for whether we are comfortable using behavioural insights. Personally, my view is that our choices always have a context, and that framing the choice in this way makes it clear and easier to make a decision that is salient to the person making it. But I know that some people not used to working with behavioural insights are a little uncomfortable with it; because it seems a little, well, sneaky. In a world where there are numerous websites on which I can click a ‘buy now’ button, before verifying a host of details, I’m comfortable with it, and that’s why I see it as a litmus test: it only seems sneaky if you compare it with a context in which people have to repeatedly decide.

Second, reflecting that most of the feedback I’ve had has been of the “what a great idea!” variety, there is so much that we can do better in public services, and it is within our grasp. I hope that this helps demonstrate the value of what I’ve been trying to do with With The Grain over the past couple of years. There are so many behavioural effects that we know can affect our decisions; and there is an ever-growing body of evidence of how and when they work. So let’s generate new approaches drawing on this knowledge. This idea was generated in a workshop of stakeholders brainstorming ideas based on different effects, of which defaults was one. Most of them hadn’t been exposed to much behavioural science before; if they can do it, so can you. This is one of our best chances of meeting the demand management challenge.

“Did I just use behavioural science? But I’m not a designer!”

So said a dozen or so stakeholders of a project aimed at retrofitting 160 draughty homes in Crawley, West Sussex. With good reason. They had co-produced a wide-ranging set of design and communication ideas for the project.

The project offers work such as external wall cladding, funded by the Energy Companies Obligation, through which the Government is obliging utilities to fund energy efficiency work on Britain’s coldest, draughtiest and most energy inefficient homes. The problem many have found is that, in the absence of existing demand (that is, people who are aware that they want their home retrofitted but haven’t been able to do it yet), building demand for something free is tricky. Price perception tells us that if something is free, it doesn’t have value. Homo economimus might see free cladding as a no-brainer; real people don’t.

So, when introducing the opportunity to people, we decided to frame the choice as being between a cold home and a warm home – not as the chance to choose a named process or product. And we avoided terms (such as ‘retrofitting’), known by professionals but which may provide a barrier if not familiar to residents. Crawley-ECO-leaflet-section

Adding the use of behavioural insights to the team’s existing expertise in community engagement had a major impact immediately, speeding up recruitment 4-fold, compared with similar projects being undertaken elsewhere in the South East.

Another innovation is that, when people say ‘yes’ to a warmer home, this becomes the default setting. So, instead of initially agreeing to an “assessment” which leads to another choice once the surveyor has visited, householders make a single choice: the surveyor will make a recommendation of the measures to adopt “ … unless you drop out”. From a project management viewpoint, we’re moving from a process whose success depends on people saying ‘yes’ at several different stages to a process designed to support and prove people’s positive choice to have a warmer home.

There are a dozen other ways in which we are using – or plan to use – behavioural insights. Rob Bennett, who leads the community engagement team, says, “It is really important that we find ways to encourage communities as a whole to get behind these initiatives, So whether it’s the initial decision to participate in a scheme, or ensuring that residents communicate what works best by sharing good practice and experiences – we expect behavioural evidence to play a critical part in successful ”delivery”.

We think we’ve learned what the With The Grain tool has also demonstrated in other settings: that behavioural insights are accessible and usable; that these insights help make approaches more people-centric and therefore more efficient; and that it’s possible to get away from the default setting of trying to persuade people.

So we now have a platform for using behavioural insights in the future. And we have a group of stakeholders who are comfortable with knowingly using behavioural insights to affect the context within which people make decisions.

In the future, this won’t be unusual. Right now, it feels revolutionary.

Yes to a duty, no to local carbon budgets: my take on the CCC report

So the Committee on Climate Change has published its report on the role of local authorities in addressing climate change. This is significant, as it has previously only addressed things from a central government perspective, and was only asked (by the Government) to consider the role of local government, after a fair bit of lobbying by Friends of the Earth. The Committee’s views are significant as it exists to advise government on how to achieve the UK’s statutory carbon budget.

I only have time today to make two points. One for, one against.

First, the report has to be welcomed for making it clear that not acting on carbon is not an option. The Committee is clearly concerned that “at the moment there is no requirement for councils to set targets and implement measures to reduce emissions within their area. And the scale of ambition is generally low given limited funding and lack of obligation”. As a result, it recommends “the introduction of a statutory duty for local authorities to develop and implement carbon plans, and that national funding to support such programmes is increased”. It’s a shame that the Committee has had to say this, but they’re absolutely right. The Green Alliance report, Is Localism Delivering for Climate Change? made clear in October 2011 that many local authorities’ commitment to address carbon reduction has waned recently.

Statutory duties are, I admit, a mixed blessing. They jar with me as a Localist, but I have sometimes argued for local authorities to have a single statutory duty: to ensure the future viability of their area. Everything else should flow from this; it seems to get to the point of local governance which, for me, is all about place. I could argue that a statutory duty on carbon is a proxy for this, but in practice, it’s more straightforward than that: acting on carbon reduction cannot be optional for any place. Localism cannot be about whether or not my place does anything to reduce emissions; it should be about deciding how. So I don’t have a problem with a statutory duty – but let’s avoid the classic centralist model, where local plans are sent to a central template and signed off by civil servants.

Which brings me neatly to my second point. The Committee comes out against the introduction of local carbon budgets. Their rationale is that this would not be appropriate “given the multiple drivers of emissions, many of which are beyond their control”. If this is the case, then why do councils have ambitions about job creation or waste reduction? Pretty much everything a council does that could be broadly described as ‘community leadership’ or ‘place shaping’ (ie everything except simple service delivery) is subject to forces “beyond their control”. Why should this be a barrier on carbon? Further to this, based on this logic, the UK should not have a national carbon budget; success, after all, is dependent on factors which the national government can’t fully control.

I’ve written plenty about local carbon budgets in the past, and still see the case for them as straightforward: we have a national carbon budget; our emissions are the sum total of emissions in each locality; so it makes sense for each local authority area to have a local carbon budget – that way, there is a clear role for each place in contributing to the national commitment to reduce carbon. The LGA has argued that this would be ‘centrally-imposed, top-down’ target setting; I see it as taking responsibility, arguably subsidiarity.

So I would argue for local carbon budgets as the mechanism for ensuring both that the UK meets its commitments and that each local authority is able to be ambitious about their own place. I’m disappointed that the Committee on Climate Change hasn’t taken this view, but pleased that what they do suggest looks like progress. I hope the Government listens.

Official: emissions aren’t falling, and some in #localgov are doing something about it

Today could turn out to be a significant day in history of Britain addressing climate change. Why? Because an influential cross-party Committee has called the Government to account on the myth at the heart of UK policy on carbon emissions: that the UK’s emissions are falling. And I’m pleased to say that pioneers in local government have played a part in demonstrating to MPs that this is worth doing.

The report Consumption Based Emissions Reporting is the result of an Inquiry by the Energy and Climate Change Committee. The lead story is its assertion that the Government should be open about ‘outsourced emissions’, quoting Chairman Tim Yeo as saying that, “the Department for Energy and Climate Change likes to argue that the UK is only responsible for 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions, but the Government’s own research shows this not to be the case. We get through more consumer goods than ever before in the UK and this is pushing up emissions in manufacturing countries like China.”

All governments since Kyoto have happily based policy on the principle that the only carbon metric that counts is ‘territorial’ emissions: in practice, the emissions this country is directly responsible for. This is an understandable conceit for government, as it can influence the energy efficiency of UK manufacturing in a way that it cannot mandate a factory in China.

This exclusive focus on territorial emissions, as the Committee recognises, leads to perverse incentives (if I fly for a weekend in Barcelona, and turn my central heating off while I’m away, this looks like a negative-carbon trip in the UK’s carbon accounts). And it leads to a total failure to recognise the carbon implications of our behaviours and decisions as citizens, beyond the realms of home energy and travel.

So, in challenging this – and the previous – government’s assertion that the UK’s emissions are falling, the Committee has made a massive leap in policy terms: it asserts that we, as individuals, have some responsibility for the emissions in the supply chains of the goods and services we buy and use, and that policy-makers should have an interest in this. In fact, it has asked DECC to “explore the options for incorporating consumption-based emissions data into the policy-making progress”.

Amen to that. Because this matters.

In projects I have been involved in over the past year with Mike Berners-Lee of Small World Consulting, we’ve established that mainstream policy-makers are completely at odds with people’s intuitive understanding of what they are responsible for. If you ask someone to compare the carbon impact of a flight they could take with the impact of a product they might buy, they do not distinguish between emissions in the UK and those elsewhere.

Yet policy-makers do nothing but, at national and local level. This is incongruous and helps explain why government action on climate change has so little salience with the public. It is why local government, for example, has an established track record encouraging behaviour change and demand management on the ‘territorial’ segments of our carbon footprint (transport modal shift, home energy, but relatively little on our broader consumption patterns. Food, in its different guises, accounts for approaching 25% of the consumption-based emissions of any locality, but local low-carbon food initiatives barely register compared to work on retrofitting, etc.

Let’s be realistic, though: in calling out policy-makers, the Committee hasn’t really made a giant leap: to extend the long-jump analogy, it’s really marking the start of the run-up. The real question is how we act on this.

Encouragingly, the report also says: “Ministers should explore the options for incorporating consumption-based emissions data in to the policy making process and setting emissions targets on a consumption-basis at the national level”. And I’m delighted to see that the Committee acknowledges the work of the three local authorities who have explored the consumption perspective (West Sussex, Manchester and the Lake District NPA) in showing that this perspective is useful for local policy-makers.

What needs to happen now? In my view, though the Committee’s asks are for Central Government, the consumption perspective makes even more sense at a local level, and this is where local policy needs to be developed. It builds on local government’s strengths, as we have influenced behaviour to manage demand for a long time. However, there is no budget available for innovation in this vital area; all the work to date has relied on the political leadership from the likes of Louise Goldsmith and Sir Richard Leese.

Overall, the Committee’s report is as encouraging about using consumption-based metrics as we could reasonably have hoped. Credit to them, and also to the pioneers who have been prepared to make the early running on this. As I write, I’ve just remembered this photo I took in Parliament when the Inquiry heard evidence from local government witnesses. I hope they feel the time spent was worthwhile. I do.

Being Clear About Green Deal’s Risks

Let’s be honest, it’s not often I am impressed by Ministers on carbon. So praise where it is due for Greg Barker’s speech on Green Deal to Ecobuild a couple of days ago.

Speech by Greg Barker at the Ecobuild Conference – Department of Energy and Climate Change.

His summary (below) is interesting, particularly the second and third bullets:

Today, I wanted to draw out three key points to unpack that simple description of the Green Deal:

  • Firstly, this is a brand new way of approaching energy efficiency.  Not a continuation of CERT, CESP, not a son of this or daughter of that;
  • Secondly, it will create a brand new market and opportunities for industry.  A market for the aspirational, not just for the worthy or energy sensible;
  • Thirdly, don’t underestimate the power of communities in their many shapes and forms.  These will be key to  delivering this agenda

Along with many others, I’m often heard emphasising that ‘doing the right thing’ on carbon and sustainability needs to be seen as aspirational, not hair-shirted or twee. Unfortunately, many ‘green’ messages do come across as the latter. So it’s good to recognise this.

My present concerns about Green Deal, though, relate to whether we will be able to deliver on – and build on – an aspirational approach.

Green Deal will fail if, in the first instance, not enough households take up the offer. This is recognised by all as a real risk, but little work has been done on how to manage this risk.

A second risk of failure is if Green Deal in practice does not build local skills and economies. This risk needs to be understood and addressed by local government; the centre will not take the lead. So when I hear tales of local authorities taking the lead in bringing together local consortia, with clarity about building local skills and using local SMEs to deliver, I’m pleased. But I don’t hear these stories often enough.

A third risk is beginning to be recognised by some in local government. This is the very real fear the the actuals savings on householders will not be realised as they ‘take comfort’. As it stands, there is no real incentive for private sector installers to tackle the behaviour change issue head on. My concern here is that it is now quite late in the day for local authorities to be solving this. And yet we’ve known since Kirklees first carried out mass retrofitting that half of the potential (carbon and financial) savings can be lost to people taking advantage of living in more energy efficient, less draughty homes by ‘walking around in t-shirts’.

The fourth risk I would identify is less recognised even by sustainability professionals and climate officers. This is the risk that we do not take the opportunity of engaging with people on energy use – with a clear carbon imperative – to also find ways of encouraging behaviour change in relation to our consumption-based carbon footprint. In reality, household emissions are a small proportion of our total footprint. This could be a great opportunity to help people take responsibility for their wider footprint. I suspect that few authorities are on the case with this, but I’d love to hear from any that are.

New analysis suggests we’re cutting resource use but let’s not over-interpret #decoupling #degrowth

I’ve copied a few paras below, but you really should go to the Guardian website and read the whole article.

This is important because it allows us – very briefly, and possibly illusory – a glimpse of decoupling. Could it be that it is possible after all to reduce material throughput while economic activity increases?

Like I say, it’s just a glimpse. Even if Goodall’s tentative conclusions turn out to be true (and there are important caveats), the degree of decoupling would be nowhere near that required to reduce our resource use enough to sustain our civilisation in the long-term. But – hey – when you thought you’d never see even a glimpse, be pleased.

Two quick points:

One of several important caveats about the metrics is that the story on carbon looks different. ‘Offshoring’ our emissions to China not only gets them off our books; it also multiplies them massively, according to recent (not yet peer reviewed) data I’ve seen.

My main reflection on this article is that this is exactly the sort of discussion that needs to be at the heart of our political and policy debate. This is just the sort of finding that we look at the implications of if we are trying, as Tim Jackson has challenged us, to create the new macro-economics.

We can’t pretend that it is in the mainstream. Yet. But we need to use the influence we have to make it so.

Amplify’d from www.guardian.co.uk

Why is our consumption falling?

From food to paper and water, Britain has gradually been guzzling less over the past decade. Why?

Peak stuff: the data

With so many significant events to look back on, one thing that few people will remember 2001 for is its entry in the UK’s Material Flow Accounts, a set of dry and largely ignored data published annually by the Office for National Statistics.

But, according to environment writer Chris Goodall, those stats tell an important story. “What the figures suggest,” Goodall says enthusiastically, “is that 2001 may turn out to be the year that the UK’s consumption of ‘stuff’ – the total weight of everything we use, from food and fuel to flat-pack furniture – reached its peak and began to decline.”

Goodall discovered the Material Flow Accounts while writing a research paper examining the UK’s consumption of resources. The pattern he stumbled upon caught him by surprise: time and time again, Brits seemed to be consuming fewer resources and producing less waste. What really surprised him was that consumption appears to have started dropping in the first years of the new millennium, when the economy was still rapidly growing.

In 2001, Goodall says, the UK’s consumption of paper and cardboard finally started to decline. This was followed, in 2002, by a fall in our use of primary energy: the raw heat and power generated by all fossil fuels and other energy sources. The following year, 2003, saw the start of a decline in the amount of household waste (including recycling) generated by each person in the country – a downward trend that before long could also be observed in the commercial and construction waste sectors.

Read more at www.guardian.co.uk

Can’t argue with conclusions of @greenallianceUK @mrskumquatkid report on #localgov & climate change

I recommend this report as an overview of the current state of play in local government on climate change strategy and action. Download it for free from the site linked below. It doesn’t make for happy reading, suggesting a retrenchment overall, with few authorities seeing the arguable additional ‘localist’ freedoms as an opportunity to move action on carbon and climate up the agenda.

I like that Green Alliance (author Faye Scott is @mrskumquatkid on Twitter) seed the report with reminders that local action needs to be about building resilience and making the transition to a low carbon economy and society. Sounds like one of my blogs. But I’d like to see more recognition from them that this will require a major focus on lifestyles and (in carbon terms) acting on consumption emissions. Local government is free to ignore these, and nearly all authorities do; the report contains just two explicit references to local authority interest in the consumption perspective.

So, on the gloomy side: there is a downward trend, and many authorities aren’t hitting the low bar that has been set. On the plus side, the green shoots of local interest in consumption metrics. I hope Green Alliance and others will encourage these.

Amplify’d from www.green-alliance.org.uk

Is localism delivering for climate change? Emerging responses from local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and neighbourhood plans

This report explores the impacts of the coalition’s localism agenda on climate change action. It asks:

– Are local authorities continuing to work on climate change?
– How is action being encouraged?
– What potential do local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), local nature partnerships (LNPs) and neighbourhood plans have to strengthen local action on climate change?

Based on extensive interviews and two surveys, the report finds a three-way split between local authorities. A third are maintaining their action on climate change, a third are narrowing their work and a third are opting out of action altogether. Overall, the results suggest that climate change work has narrowed, is very weak or absent in 65 per cent of local authorities.

The full report can be downloaded above, or read the executive summary 

Read more at www.green-alliance.org.uk

How can #localgov encourage #collcons? (blog archive)

The consumption-based carbon footprinting work I’ve been involved in in Greater Manchester and West Sussex has identified the aspects of our carbon footprint that policy-makers have not addressed. It’s half of our footprint, and it’s overwhelmingly the supply chain carbon resulting from our (over-)consumption of goods and services.

So the question I’m keen to get local authorities addressing is: how can we and our partners create the conditions where the sort of enterprise thrives that will reduce this footprint and at the same time improve wellbeing, social capital, sustinainability, etc?

To illustrate this, here are seven US initiatives in collaborative consumption. There are UK examples too, of course, but Brainpickings just sent me a link to this. Q: How to encourage this sort of stuff in localities, amid the white noise of the ‘growth agenda’?

Amplify’d from www.brainpickings.org
30 AUGUST, 2010

Inconspicuous consumption, or what lunching ladies have to do with social web karma.

Stuff. We all accumulate it and eventually form all kinds of emotional attachments to it. (Arguably, because the marketing machine of the 20th century has conditioned us to do so.) But digital platforms and cloud-based tools are making it increasingly easy to have all the things we want without actually owning them. Because, as Wired founder and notable futurist Kevin Kelly once put it, “access is better than ownership.” Here are seven services that help shrink your carbon footprint, lighten your economic load and generally liberate you from the shackles of stuff through the power of sharing.

NEIGHBORGOODS

The age of keeping up with the Jonses is over. The time of linking up with them has begin. NeighborGoods is a new platform that allows you to do just that, allowing you to borrow and lend from and to your neighbors rather than buying new stuff. (Remind us please, what happened to that fancy blender you bought and used only twice?) From lawnmowers to bikes to DVD’s, the LA-based startup dubs itself “the Craigslist for borrowing,” allowing you to both save and earn money.

Transparent user ratings, transaction histories and privacy controls make the sharing process simple and safe, while automated calendars and reminders ensure the safe return of loaned items.

Give NeighborGoods a shot by creating a sharing group for your apartment building, campus, office, or reading group — both your wallet and your social life will thank you.

UPDATE: Per the co-founder’s kind comment below, we should clarify that NeighborGoods also allows you to import your Twitter and Facebook friends from the get-go, so you have an instant group to share with.

SNAPGOODS

Similarly to Neighborgoods, SnapGoods allows you to rent, borrow and lend within your community. SnapGoods takes things step further by expanding the notion of “community” not only to your local group — neighborhood, office or apartment building — but to your social graph across the web’s trusted corners. The site features full Facebook and Meetup integration, extending your social circle to the cloud.

You can browse the goods people in your area are lending or take a look at what they need and lend a hand (or a sewing machine, as may be the case) if you’ve got the goods.

Growing one’s own produce is every hipster-urbanite’s pipe dream. But the trouble with it is that you have to actually have a place to grow it. And while a pot of cherry tomatoes in your fire escape is better than nothing, it’s hardly anything. Enter Landshare, an innovative platform for connecting aspiring growers with landowners who have the space but don’t use it.

Though currently only available in the U.K., we do hope to see Landshare itself, or at least the concept behind it, spread worldwide soon.

LANDSHARE
SWAPTREE

swaptree is a simple yet brilliant platform for swapping your media possessions — from books to DVD’s to vinyl — once they’ve run their course in your life as you hunt for the next great thing. Since we first covered swaptree nearly three years ago, the site has facilitated some 1.6 million swaps, saving its users an estimated $10.3 million while reducing their collective carbon footprint by 9.3 million tons.

Inspired by the founders’ moms, whose lunch dates with girlfriends turned into book-swap clubs, swaptree makes sure that the only thing between you and the latest season of 24 is the price of postage.

GIFTFLOW

Most of us are familiar with the concept of regifting. (No disrespect, but the disconnect between good friends and good taste is sometimes astounding.) Luckily, GiftFlow allows you to swap gifts you don’t want for ones other people don’t want but you do. The platform is based on a system of karmic reputation, where your profile shows all you’ve given and taken, building an implicit system of trust through transparency.

So go ahead, grandma. Hit us with your latest sweet but misguided gift. Chances are, there’s someone out there who’d kill for that kitschy music box.

ZIPCAR

We’re big proponents of bikesharing but, to this point, the concept has failed to transcend local implementations. While some cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Denver are fortunate enough to have thriving bikesharing programs, we’re yet to see a single service available across different locations. Until then, we’d have to settle for the next best sharing-based transportation solution: Zipcar, a 24/7, on-demand carsharing service that gives its members flexible access to thousands of cars across the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Zipcar has been around for quite some time and most people are already familiar with it, so we won’t overelaborate, but suffice it to say the service is the most promising solution to reducing both traffic congestion and pollution in cities without reducing the actual number of drivers.

SHARE SOME SUGAR

Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor. More than an Outkast lyric line, this is the inspiration behind share some sugar — a celebration of neighborliness through the sharing of goods and resources. Much like SnapGoods and NeighborGoods, the service lets you borrow, rent and share stuff within your neighborhood or group of friends

Read more at www.brainpickings.org