The Green Deal and other initiatives to get the public to reduce energy use are likely to fail without a national communications strategy backed by central Government, warns a new report by the Green Alliance think-tank and reported by GreenWise.
With less than six months to go before the launch of the Green Deal, research by the Green Alliance calls into question what it describes as the Government’s current "dispersed communications" approach to its flagship energy efficiency programme and other green energy policies, such as the roll out of smart meters, saying it "lacks coherence and "will not be effective".
Drawing on feedback from the private sector, including the energy companies, local authorities and civil society groups, and using case studies of successful recent national campaigns, such as digital switchover and the ChangeforLife healthy eating campaign, the report makes the case for a national communication strategy that is initiated and backed by Government. Such a campaign would bring the Green Deal, smart meter rollout, and other green energy initiatives such as the Feed-in Tariff and the Renewable Heat Incentive, under one brand and under the direction of a dedicated delivery body that is focused on marketing, consumer engagement and changing behaviour around energy use, says the Green Alliance.
The report, 'Neither Sermons nor Silence: the Case for National Communications on Energy’, points out that to meet Government targets to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by the middle of the century requires a staggering one home a minute to be insulated between now and 2050. This massive task is compounded by the fact that public engagement with Government energy schemes has been relatively low up until now, even when measures are heavily subsidised or even free.
"There is a huge risk the Government’s current plans for communications won’t deliver the levels of public engagement and take up needed to make sure that schemes like the Green Deal are a success," Faye Scott, Green Alliance’s head of research, said.
The Government has announced a number of measures to improve take up of its green energy initiatives, including £200 million of extra funding to encourage households and businesses to sign up to the Green Deal when the scheme launches in October. But, as part of measures to bring down the public deficit, the Government has cut back severely on communication spend. As such, it is leaving it to the private sector to take the lead on marketing. However, this runs the risk of diluting the message, warns the report.
"If you’ve got five different offers of the Green Deal, all using slightly different language, people won’t necessarily realize that you are talking about the same thing. You need the same language, same message and same imagery," says Scott.
And in the case of multiple, dispersed communication, Scott points out there is also a danger of insufficient resources being put into individual campaigns because those behind them don’t have the confidence the demand is there yet.
"There is a real risk that if everyone does their own communication, they won’t do much at all," says Scott.
The report warns against leaving it to the energy companies to lead on the communication strategy, even though they will be responsible for rolling out smart meters and many of them will be Green Deal providers. It points to 2010 research by Accenture that found that only 16 per cent of people trust energy companies to deliver messages on energy efficiency.
"There are clear calls from the businesses and organisations that will be delivering the schemes for strong, trusted national branding to complement their own efforts," says Scott.
The report argues that to be successful initiatives like the Green Deal need "trusted messengers" to get behind their communication, but Scott says these messengers – often charities – are not always "comfortable" with getting into bed with the big energy firms.
"Age UK, for example, would need to feel comfortable about any campaign they helped to promote," she says.
The report looks at lessons from other high profile campaigns to show that they can be both effective and affordable and sets out a number of funding models that could be adopted.
The Change4Life campaign, which was launched in 2009 to reduce obesity and encourage healthier diets, was initially backed by £75 million of Government money for a three-year period, but was frozen by the Coalition in 2010 due to Government cutbacks. It suffered an 80 per cent drop in sign-ups to the campaign and a 90 per cent drop in calls to its information line as a result and was reinstated in May 2011 with new Government funding of £14 million. The campaign, meanwhile, received £200 million in kind support over four years up to 2012 from the private sector.
"Change4life required only a small Government contribution," notes Scott.
In the case of smart meter roll out, the model being proposed by the energy companies is for it to be entirely funded by the private sector – in the same way as the digital switchover campaign was jointly funded by the broadcasters.
"This could well be a solution," Scott said.