Change isn’t yet in the wind

Consumers are aware of green energy issues, but cost and a lack of leadership from business and Government are stalling action. Will change only come with our children, who show real commitment?

Last week was Energy Saving Week and newspaper headlines declared the UK to be the worst “energy saver” in Europe. Meanwhile, the UK is failing to meet its targets for renewable energy generation by 2010 and may not even meet 2020 objectives of 20% unless the Government and businesses show greater leadership and commitment to clean energy initiatives.

Project Renew, a study of more than 6,000 households conducted by Allegra Strategies and the largest project of its kind, reveals some interesting trends among consumer attitudes towards energy consumption and generation.

Consumers express concerns about climate change and global warming – 68% of those surveyed want electricity from renewable sources – but there is mixed willingness to change energy usage.

UK consumers overwhelmingly deem the Government to be responsible for ensuring clean and sustainable sources of energy: 80% say government should subsidise the use of renewables and 73% want legislation for newly built houses and more than two-thirds say they want further information on energy-related issues.

Alongside the Government, large companies are seen as playing a critical role in guaranteeing clean energy. In particular, gas and electricity suppliers, along with large petrochemical companies such as BP and Shell, are associated with the need to invest in renewable energy sources.

While there is increasing public awareness of global warming – 77% of UK consumers are aware of issues related to energy and its environmental effects – there is a limited link to a change in individual consumption behaviour, such as energy reduction. While two-thirds of the sample say they have made changes to their energy usage within the past year, this was mainly connected to cost saving. Although 34% of consumers expect to use less energy over the next few years, the majority (47%) believe their energy consumption will remain the same.

Cost, not least because of recent price hikes in gas and electricity tariffs, is a consideration, but remarkably, 50% of the sample say they are prepared to pay more for their electricity to ensure that energy comes from a renewable source. This compares with 32% who are not willing to pay a premium. When asked about micro-generation and its costs, only 1.4% of respondents have self-generation devices installed – 87% “had never seriously considered installing renewable energy measures” and for those who have, costs are cited as the main prohibitive factor in embarking on this route. Indeed, 30% of respondents say they want lower renewable energy costs to encourage take-up, while another 30% are looking for “financial incentives” from the public sector and private industry.

When it comes to sourcing power supply, consumers are aware of the options – not least as a result of this year’s Energy Review. Following wind and solar power, nuclear is considered the third-best energy source for society – 32.8% view nuclear power as a good way to ensure sufficient energy supply for the UK, compared with 42.8% who are opposed. Respondents say nuclear would be the most feasible option to implement, particularly in the short term.

Despite consumers being generally aware of transport related issues and the impact on the environment, there appears to be very little demand for alternatively powered vehicles, largely due to the lack of genuine alternatives to standard fuels. Hybrid-electric vehicles are perceived as too expensive, and electric cars only suitable for short distances. (Only 0.8% of the sample own an alternatively powered vehicle.)

Last week’s announcement by Richmond Borough Council that it is to launch a sliding scale for charges on resident parking permits, charging owners of “gas guzzlers” more, may have made the headlines and TV news bulletins, but 80% of consumers say they are “totally unaware” of any local relevant initiatives regarding energy-efficiency or reduction of carbon footprints.

In spite of mixed levels of action on the part of adult consumers relating to the use of renewable energy, the younger generation of consumers appear to be well placed to challenge future UK Governments and corporations on their need to provide a sustainable energy future and concern for the environment.

Primarily due to education programmes in schools, children and teenagers showed high levels of awareness in relation to environmental concerns and the need to address these issues. Children also generated some of the most creative ideas about this topic and may well prove to have an influence over their families: one in six adults surveyed by Allegra are influenced by their children or grandchildren on issues related to clean energy use and energy efficiency. Many also exerted influence over their families’ car buying decisions.

Government and businesses need to do more to educate consumers if they are to alter their energy consumption, but piecemeal measures like turning off standby switches are not enough to cultivate a sea change. Action is needed and marketers are on the frontline.

Christina Blache, senior project manager of Allegra Strategies, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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