Some of you might not know that we have a network of Green Ambassadors – people who are committed to saving energy, and trying to influence others to do the same. We also speak to them regularly and really value their views which give us a first hand insight into the pressures and issues that people across the UK face in trying to live a low carbon lifestyle. Last week, one of our Green Ambassadors, Sue Sheehan, took part in a media opportunity, which involved Gordon Brown visiting her house to discuss energy saving. Sue kindly agreed to write a blog for us about the experience – and the need to make saving energy more aspirational.
“We need to start treating energy as a precious resource and stop wasting it.” That was the gist of what Gordon Brown said to me when he came to my house last week, although that particular point went unreported.
The prime minister visited me and my family as an example of a household that had made improvements to its home to cut energy use. I told him how we had cut our household use by 40% by draught-proofing and adding secondary glazing, but also by taking care to keep heat in by doing simple things such as closing the curtains at dusk
My husband was well chuffed when Gordon said we were a ‘model’ for families who want to cut their fuel bills and reduce their carbon emissions.
The press were not quite so impressed however, with headlines such as “SLASH YOUR FUEL BILLS? JUST DRAW THE CURTAINS” from the Daily Star. But while many articles criticized this advice as ‘not enough’, particularly for low income families, they also carried easy to understand advice and graphics that underline the Energy Saving Trust messages on energy efficiency. Some success there then.
The fact that we are generally a ‘wasteful’ society when it comes to energy is not an easy message to deliver. Simple measures such as closing curtains are not particularly ‘sexy’ to talk about. But I am convinced that as a society we can halve our carbon emissions simply by cutting out waste – in all areas of our lives – not just household energy.
I personally prefer to focus on giving positive messages, good news stories, but if we want to engage the press perhaps we should focus on highlighting ‘waste crimes’ so that it become unacceptable to walk around the house in nothing but a tee-shirt in the middle of winter, or undertake excessive plane or car journeys, for example. These are not just personal choices. They are choices that affect the whole planet.
It’s all about ‘waste’ and now I know that senior politicians, including Gordon Brown, understand this as much as the likes of Energy Saving Trust Green Ambassadors and Philip Sellwood. But generally I don’t think we are talking about it enough. I am getting a conversation going in my own community through the Hyde Farm Climate Action Network (Hyde Farm CAN), without which I probably would not have been able to achieve as much as I have done in my own house. But I don’t see many other people out there working to make mundane activities such as ‘draughtproofing’ easier or more interesting, or linking them to the fact that they may actually help us save the planet and reduce or dependence on limited resources.
The day after the prime minister’s visit I attended a Big Green Challenge event. Organised by NESTA the Big Green Challenge rewards ‘innovative’ ideas from communities who are trying to activate communities to cut carbon. Although the standard of entries is high and the competition has highlighted that there are huge numbers of creative individuals finding ways to cut carbon, as far as I can see none of the ten groups selected for the final £1m prize have yet found a way of making energy efficiency ‘sexy’ or aspirational.
No sour grapes then that Hyde Farm CAN isn’t one of the ten finalists! But then I bet they haven’t had a visit from the Prime Minister!