Is the Carbon Trust guilty of too much hot air ?

The Carbon Trust was set up to help organisations reduce their carbon emissions and develop low carbon technologies so that the Government meets its carbon reduction targets.

Despite calling itself a private company, virtually all the Carbon Trust’s funding comes from the Government, at an annual cost of £103m, £12m of which is allocated to marketing.

Earlier this month, the Carbon Trust handed WCRS a three-year contract for its advertising and retained Manning Gottlieb OMD to handle its media planning and buying (MW.co.uk March 10). The Trust has a number of other marketing services agencies on its roster, including Tequila/London, and is poised to launch a regional campaign featuring the strapline “It’s easier than you think to shrink”.

Strong image

The Trust has invested heavily in building a “strong brand image” and claims that 53% of people in business in 2006 were “spontaneously aware of the Trust and its role in helping reduce CO2 emissions.”

But a recent report from the National Audit Office prompted critics to question the Trust’s cost effectiveness and to suggest that it has a limited impact.

The report found that only 12% of large businesses with energy bills over £50,000 a year had worked with the Trust. It also revealed that, of the companies that had worked with the Trust between 2003 and 2006, less than 40% of its recommendations had been implemented. Furthermore, 20% felt the input from the Trust had offered no new or only small opportunities for energy savings.

Dr%20Eamonn%20Butler%2C%20Director%20of%20the%20Adam%20Smith%20InstituteDirector of the Adam Smith Institute, Dr Eamonn Butler, says that non-departmental public bodies such as the Carbon Trust and its domestic counterpart, the Energy Savings Trust, often overlap, waste money and put ministers at arm’s length from decisions. This is meant to depoliticise but Butler believes it often leads to a lack of accountability.

Sir John Bourn, outgoing auditor general and head of the NAO, warned that the Trust’s achievements, while “commendable”, were “small in view of the scale of the challenge ahead”.

The Trust defends its record by claiming that critics fail to appreciate the realities of low-carbon investments and points out there are often barriers to implementation in the form of planning and supply chain problems.

Some observers feel that the Government could address this by having a more consistent communications strategy. Head of greenhelpline.com Alex Lambie says that the ease with which money is provided for the Carbon Trust’s communications, contrasts poorly with the Government’s apparent reluctance to spend on communicating directly with consumers.

Indeed, the Energy Savings Trust, which gives information on domestic energy saving, has a marketing spend that is less than half of the Carbon Trust.

Shareholder support

Experts say that companies are reluctant to invest in developing “green” technology because it is hard to get the support of shareholders, who demand that a certain dividend is paid. Lambie says that shareholders need signals from consumers that they will be interested in those products when they come to market.

Lambie blames “weak leadership” and says/ “There’s no holds barred to get money to engage businesses to make what are comparatively piecemeal changes tackling climate change. In the context of, say, green energy, the Government could be encouraging the use of green tariffs. But it won’t, for fear of being seen as anti-competitive.”

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