Matt Robinson, Communications Manager of the Zero Carbon Hub, writes today's guest post. (The Zero Carbon Hub is a public/private partnership established to take day-to-day operational responsibility for co-ordinating delivery of low and zero carbon new homes as part of the UK Government's commitment for all newbuild homes to be zero carbon from 2016. The Zero Carbon Hub supports and reports to the 2016 Taskforce which was established in January 2007 and is chaired by the Housing Minister and the Executive Chairman of the Home Builders Federation.)

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The credit crunch has significantly impacted on the house-building industry and resulted in the sale of newbuild homes dropping massively over the last year. So, where does this leave the Government’s ambition for all newbuild homes to be zero carbon from 2016, when:

1) We know that lower carbon homes are much harder to build, and therefore more costly to produce and research shows consumers have indicated they would not be prepared to pay much more for low/zero carbon homes – and certainly not the £35,000 that a home meeting a zero carbon standard would cost.

2) We know consumers don’t like the look of low and zero carbon homes.

3) We know consumers aren’t keen on the associated technologies, such as renewables.

Well, on the face of it, the challenge of persuading consumers to purchase low/zero carbon homes looks to be an extremely tough one.

However, I think we need to take a step back – and look at what consumers know about low/zero carbon homes. The simple answer is, ‘not a lot’. In fact, people don't even understand how their homes and their behaviour within the home impact on CO2 levels, with just a quarter – after prompting- being aware that 27 per cent of the UK's carbon emissions come from housing stock. And whilst 50 per cent of consumers have heard of the term zero carbon home, only a third know what this means in reality. The bottom line is that whilst people may say they don't like the look, the additional costs, or technologies involved in zero carbon homes, this is not based on personal experience, but instead their perception. After all most people will never have visited or stayed in a low/zero carbon home or seen how the technologies involved work.

Where does that leave us? Well, research shows that the key things people consider when buying a home are – amongst others – quality, running costs, and value for money. Whilst increasing the general awareness and understanding that consumers have of low/zero carbon homes is critical, I believe that it is these three areas where the argument can best be made in persuading people that they should purchase low/zero carbon homes. 

At the moment I am in the process of setting up a Consumer Engagement Steering Group to take forward and develop strategies to tackle the challenges outlined above. The first meeting is to be held on 30. January at the Energy Saving Trust’s offices – and I would be delighted to hear from any of the marketing and communications experts amongst you who would like to join the Group. The initial aims of the Group will be to:

1) Identify concerns and worries regarding the viability of promoting of low/zero carbon homes to consumers.

2) Use our collective expertise to identify and prioritise the types of consumer most likely to purchase low/zero carbon homes.

3) Develop a marketing guidance strategy to help direct and inform on the best ways of communicating messages about low/zero carbon homes to potential buyers.

The Zero Carbon Hub, over the next three months, will also be conducting a wide ranging piece of consumer research on low/zero carbon homes. This will include:

1) Examining and producing a summary report on existing consumer research on low/zero carbon homes.

2) Conducting new research that fully explores consumer views on low/zero carbon homes. Part of this will involve running focus groups of homeowners currently living in low carbon properties to help ascertain the practical barriers that could inhibit mainstream take up in the future.

By being part of the Steering Group you will receive updates on the progression of this research and have the first chance to read the findings when it is published in March 2009.

If you are interested in joining then please email me at matt.robinson@zerocarbonhub.org, or alternatively you can phone me on 07918 726675.

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