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CarbonCulture at DECC: unlocking energy and carbon savings

Luke Nicholson, CEO and Founder of CarbonCulture, introduces the CarbonCulture at DECC pilot project, in which DECC partnered with design-for-behaviour-change specialists CarbonCulture, supported by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), to pilot an innovative, user-centred digital platform, intended to engage staff on sustainability issues.

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) saw the potential to provide value for the UK through behaviour change, and procured the CarbonCulture at DECC pilot as a proof of concept, offering a testbed of 1,000 civil servants at DECC’s Headquarters in Whitehall.

CarbonCulture introduced themselves to this community by beginning simple conversations about energy and carbon, asking what people thought and felt about saving energy, and inviting their ideas and pledges. Using simple, low-cost methods (like specially designed postcards) the input of hundreds of DECC staff was collected.

CarbonCulture at DECC was presented as a staff, or ‘user’ driven project through friendly and welcoming branding that was carried across all the communication touchpoints introduced to the building. These encouraged continued feedback from DECC staff throughout the process, which was integral to our user-centered design process.

We helped DECC staff to tell their stories about their own energy use. Together we identified the elements of their stories that drove their behaviour, so that we could reconstruct them into fun and easy online tools that help people to behave differently, and think differently about their behaviours.

The user-facing side of the CarbonCulture Platform delivered carbon-saving behaviours as games and utilities that were designed to attract people through their inherent usefulness, funness, and ease of use, supported by incentivisation through awarding points and (very low value and sustainable) prizes. For example, Scrunch used points and interaction to encourage users working late to move to one area of the building, reducing energy consumption in other areas. Foodprints visualised users’ lunchtime eating habits and motivated them towards a lower carbon and healthier diet. We used the platform to present the social proof of the community – showing the actions of others is a strong driver for getting more people involved in new actions, and helped us to communicate everyone’s progress.

Behind the scenes, the technical side of the platform simultaneously collected detailed empirical data about the energy and carbon performance of the building. In a full deployment, this will enable close analysis of the sustainability and cost impacts of behaviour change.

We got people’s attention and started talking to them about their energy use, turning it from something abstract into something tangible and understandable through real-time energy displays driven by live data. These sparked further conversation about how energy was being used, and introduced a sense of ownership over the peaks and troughs in the graphs that represent energy use. These real-time energy displays also enabled the DECC Sustainability and Estates team to optimise the building’s heating and cooling systems, for example identifying changes to water heating, which helped to achieve savings of 10% of gas use in less than a fortnight.

To find out more, visit the CarbonCulture at DECC website…

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