How rebounding could be the start of something beautiful


Facing the 'cake and eat it' conundrum can be a chore

By Michael Morrison

The pivotal annual break-up points of New Year and Valentine’s Day may be a distant memory, but most of us are still finding ourselves on the rebound in a big way.

We’ve all done it. You’re having a good time, not a care in the world when, without realising it, you’ve have rebounded right back to where you were before all your hard work. Following? I’m not talking about your relationship status, but instead a real-life growing concern in the green-minded community.

Regular readers may twig that we’ve talked about the rebound effect a lot on this blog of late – from the theories of William Stanley Jevons  to my Scottish colleague Zoe’s slightly worrying analysis that it could be the start of our ethical downfall – but forgive me for joining the debate. It’s a very ‘now’ debate after all; one that can move quickly from very personal concerns to big, sweeping problems if we’re not careful. 

How it works is this: you decide to save energy and money by getting loft insulation fitted, or perhaps installing a couple of solar panels on the roof. Great! But then, gradually, without really realising it, you start to think ‘Well, my loft’s fully insulated, so I guess I could turn the thermostat up just a little’. Or ‘I use a hippo in my toilet so I’m just going to enjoy a few more minutes in the shower now and again’.

Before you know it though, your life may be that little bit more comfortable but your energy use and expenditure has gone right back to where it was before you did anything. Maybe the dating analogy is going further than I thought…

Basically you can’t have your cake and eat it. 

In January British Gas announced that it had cut 5% off electricity bills of 5 million customers, a move which competitors EDF and SSE also announced. After the mammoth hike-up of domestic energy bills across all major suppliers in late-2011, the move will offer little respite to most homes. But with the average home set to save around £20 – 30 a year as a result, it’s worth looking at just what energy-saving measures you can spend that money on. Before you rebound it on Saturday night’s taxi home… 

This blog is no stranger to investigating energy-saving gadgets, but even I was surprised by how many small, cheap products there are out there that not only help you save energy but also pay for themselves many times over in doing so. For example, I read about the H2O-100 Power Water Pressure Powered Shower Radio. A radio which plumbs directly into your shower and is powered by the mains water supply. Oh, and it’s totally waterproof. Simple but hugely effective. Okay so it won’t save you that much energy, but it only takes a few small measures for you to see the benefit on your power bills. And it also proves that not rebounding can be as enteratining as caving into temptation.

Using a similar approach is a very savvy installation indeed. Some boilers are being shipped pre-fitted with a tiny turbine in the mains gas inlet pipe. This spins and produces electricity for free, which in turn generates all the electricity your boiler needs to operate. Of course micro-generators like these are a long way off producing enough power to dramatically cut our fuel bills but, in the meantime, you could a lot worse than spending your £25 fuel savings on an energy monitor

These little beauties wirelessly attach to either your mains electricity supply or gas inlet pipe and give you accurate and live figures on how much fuel you are using, how much it costs and estimated greenhouse gas emissions. And you can fit them yourselves in a matter of minutes. And these are only £25? Yes. Kind of makes you wonder why energy suppliers have been faffing about with 9-digit numbers and estimates all these years.  

The real benefit of an energy monitor is being able to see exactly how your fuel consumption is affected by separate actions or appliances. If you can physically see the numbers and cost rising every time you turn on that electric blanket you’ll quickly think twice about using it in future.

So maybe the realisation you’re rebounding can have you wind up forging a beautiful new relationship with your energy consumption. Seeing what you’re using is of course just the start. To fight the power that the temptation towards rebounding exerts, we’ve got to not only cosy up to our monitors, but act on what they’re telling us. Some might say it is just like a human relationship.

Reduce, rebound, reoffend?

By Zoe Holliday

I’m not much of an athlete. Don’t get me wrong, I try. But over the past year, my sporting attempts have led to two broken fingers, rope burns behind my knees, and a serious ankle sprain from tripping over my own feet. 

So when I managed to jog a reasonable distance last weekend without either stopping or breaking myself, I felt that I deserved a reward. When I got home, I ate half a bag of cookies and a packet of smarties. Then I realised that by piling on the calories just after burning them off, I had pretty much negated the point of going on the run in the first place. 

Similarly, the intended carbon savings from energy efficiency measures are often not realised in practice, because people spend the money they save on other goods or services that require an energy input. This is the so-called ‘rebound effect.’ The effect was illustrated perfectly in 2009, when Tesco introduced their ‘Turn Lights Into Flights’ campaign – encouraging shoppers to use the clubcard points they earned buying energy saving light bulbs on airmiles. Not a campaign to win over the Guardian readers. 

Pinned to the partition in front of my desk is a postcard with the poster from the Second World War that’s above these words.  I bought it a few years ago because I thought it was amusing from an energy saving perspective. ‘My,’ I thought to myself, ‘how times have changed.’ Turned out to be maybe not so much.

The rebound effect is well-documented (we’ve covered it in previous articles on this blog) and is even taken into account in the Energy Saving Trust’s savings calculations. What is less well documented, however, is the reason why we rebound. But getting to an understanding of these values and motivations will be crucial if we want to minimise the impact of rebound on potential energy savings. 

The most common explanation is simply that increased energy efficiency makes energy cheaper. And if this is the case, then we need to be looking at how we market energy efficiency measures – if we persuade people to act because of financial savings, it should come as no surprise that they want to use their savings on other energy-consuming services. Likewise, if we tell people that their homes will be warmer after installing insulation, it should not be a shock when they turn their thermostat up after the measures have been installed. 

A less well documented theory for the rebound effect is ‘moral self-licensing’ – the idea that by doing something for the environment, people feel ‘morally licensed’ to make less environmental choices in other domains. In a recent study by Verena Tiefenbeck, half of the residents in a 200 block apartment block in Boston were given weekly feedback on their water consumption and how it compared to their neighbours’. As expected, those who received feedback reduced their water consumption by around 7.4% compared to those who did not – but a more surprising result was that these households also increased electricity consumption by 5.7% relative to the control group during this time. 

Interestingly, there is evidence that this moral licensing may even extend outwith the environmental domain. A 2009 study by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong suggested that the actual act of purchasing green products may have the counter-intuitive effect of licensing asocial and unethical behaviours. In a series of experiments, Mazar and Zhong showed that after buying green products, participants appeared less willing to share a set amount of money, and were more likely to cheat, lie and steal than those who had bought conventional products. (Maybe this explains the fact that Antony Worrall Thompson, a passionate advocate of organic farming, was recently caught shoplifting?!)

 It’s worth noting that a number of concerns have been raised about the validity of these experiments, as the participants were not actual green consumers and were under lab conditions. But I do believe that if we are to maximise the effectiveness of energy efficiency campaigns (and reduce petty crime), there is a real need to understand what motivates the rebound effect.

In particular, we need to understand that decisions aren’t made in isolation but are shaped by people’s values. If energy saving is marketed by appealing to extrinsic values like popularity, image, conformity or wealth, then it should come as no surprise when they choose to make use of their greater wealth, or to compensate for the fact that they have behaved better than others in one way by self-licensing more indulgent behaviour in another way. 

If we are to counter-act the rebound effect, energy saving messaging needs to convey not extrinsic values but a sense of our moral duty to help meet the climate change challenge and make sure we all have a stable, sustainable future.

Are you energy rebounding?


Green on the rebound...

By Dr Paula Owen

It’s Energy Saving Week – and as we tend to around this time of year, we’ve done a bit of new research to garner some insights into the views and habits of the nation. This year it’s on the Rebound Effect (something we’ve looked at before here on the blog) – and there are some interesting findings.

In autumn 2011, the Energy Saving Trust surveyed over 2,000 people across the UK. People were asked, ‘if you were to save hundreds of pounds on your fuel bills by implementing efficiency measures, what would you do with the savings?’

Encouragingly, and potentially an indicator of the austere times we live in, half of us say we would save the money. Women seem slightly more inclined to save than men, but there is not a lot in it. And unsurprisingly, men are more interested in buying more gadgets.

Less encouragingly, only about one person in ten would be keen to invest that money into more energy efficiency products and measures. And another 12 per cent of people would go out and blow those savings on more energy using products.

It also seems as if the young (18-24) and the oldest age group (64+) are the most likely to tuck their savings away for a rainy day. And the Scots generally are the most likely to save their cash. People in the North East are the most spendthrift of the regions. Here one in four is likely to go out and spend the money on new TVs or more gadgets, but conversely they are also most likely to spend on energy efficiency products.

We then asked people if they were concerned about the running costs of appliances, and whether that influenced their purchasing decisions. The answer was unequivocal. Just over one in 10 were interested in the on-going running costs of their electrical appliances. And indeed, when questioned, 8 out of 10 people could not guess correctly the yearly running cost of a large, flat screen TV. It simply does not seem to be a concern; a very different situation to when people are buying a new car, where the fuel efficiency of the engine is a major consideration.

The biggest influence on people’s buying habits is the initial purchase cost, with half of respondents stating that is their main influence. Although of course, without taking into account the on-going yearly running costs of the appliance, this could well be a false economy.

We then went on to look at how willing people were to forego some added luxury in the pursuit of money saving. So, we asked whether they would be happy to forego taking extra ‘comfort’ in the form of higher or longer heating patterns, after they had installed measures, with the knowledge that this would reduce their potential fuel bill savings.

Here, one person in five surveyed were victim to the rebound effect – that is they are more interested in increasing their comfort levels by leaving their heating on for longer rather than maximising their bill savings. Encouragingly however, nearly three out of every four people stated they wanted to maximise their energy savings. This means the majority of the UK households do not want to fall victim to this new malaise.

This is of course heartening news, and the Energy Saving Trust is here to help – with lots of useful information and advice on how to squeeze the maximum savings out of your energy efficiency investments.

With our help we will ensure you will not become an unwitting casualty of the dreaded Rebound Effect! Why not visit our website and give our interactive tools such as the Home Energy Check or Water Calculator a go, or find out what grants and discounts may be available to you.

Lag to the future

There’s lots of potential Green Deal players that are currently carefully feeling their way into what their role might be in this new age of energy efficiency.

Research and technical know-how is absolutely key, and also understanding how things might work at a local level. We’re working with organisations that want to do just this, and this blog’s an ideal place to highlight the case studies that are producing results.

There’s few better examples than Affinity Sutton’s award-winning Futurefit programme. We are working with the affordable housing provider, providing technical support in installing packages of measures in 102 homes across house types typical of the social housing sector, at different levels of cost.

These are not ‘show homes’, the more aspirational dream scenario for anyone looking to live in a greener home, not was the focus on maximum reduction in carbon emissions regardless of cost. It’s clear that the right way of doing things is to take a practical approach, looking exactly what bang you can get for your buck, so to speak. That’s exactly what Futurefit’s about.

It’s also about how best to bring green living advice into the mix during major retrofit work – vitally important if you want to compound those savings and avoid the dreaded ‘rebound effect.’

We’re all hoping it will prove excellent guidance for housing associations to make practical decisions on the right measures for the right homes, how installing them works, how an Affinity Sutton-sized housing provider can design financial models that deliver, and how best to keep everyone, not least the residents, happy throughout the process. Not easy, but achievable when done right.

We’ve got a detailed report available of what we learnt from the installation phase of the scheme. From air-tightness to householder satisfaction surveys to where this all could fit into the Green Deal, you’ll find it all there.

Smart homes: not so popular with teenagers

Not on the smart home's watch...

Often it’s the auxiliary benefits of energy efficiency measures that prove the ‘tipping point’ between just thinking about getting them done and biting the bullet.

Some of our recent research has also shown that people are even prepared to pay a bit more for measures that show this sort of ‘value added’ – the added security that comes with double glazing, for example.

It turns out that smart home energy management systems may have the ultimate auxiliary benefit for the suspicious parent. reported the story of and Australian dad and avid remote energy monitor inspector who managed to snoop out his kids’ house party while he was out having dinner 500 miles away.

After initial confusion at seeing a hefty energy-use spike in his absence, it was teenagers in his company completed the sell-out of his own progeny, by explaining what was really going on. After calling his daughter, she did try and slow down the energy consumption, but too little too late: busted.

There are some concerns that mass smart metering could only benefit energy companies through more accurate customer usage information – but we’re keen to ensure that armed with the correct information, this isn’t the case, and that households can really make a change towards wiser energy choices.

What’s more, this story does seem to illustrate that the micro, domestic ‘conversations’ between man and meter may be just as telling as the macro ones at corporate level.

We’ve had our blogger Steven Harris transcribing (imaginary?) discussions with his own smart home before – and it remains to be seen whether such an energy boffin will be able to resist the temptation for teen snooping opportunities as his children grow older.

All this said, it doesn’t have to mean eternal enmity between teen and machine –the less money parents spend on bills, the more they’ve got to treat their kids to that thing they’ve been on at them about for months on end (without becoming a huge victim of the rebound effect, naturally). Perhaps all that we’ll see is the secret house party having something of a low-carbon makeover…

Staying the night…without leaving massive footprints

By Ricci Bryson

We are in the age of the ‘eco consumerism’; everyone strives to be a lean green consumer machine by making ethical choices with purchases and products. Nowadays you can buy everything from fairtrade coffee to ethical washing up liquid, but some eco consumers are not only making the switch to environmental friendly products, they are also changing the way they holiday by staying in sustainable hotels.

As we know, the energy that we use going on holidays or mini breaks has an impact that can negate the best of intentions at home – from jetting across to New York to staying in an energy-guzzling hotel. We also know that the temptation to ‘rebound’ can be alluring: spending the money saved on getting that insulation done on some cheap flights to a sun spot, for example.

For some time now though, we have been able to make the choice to minimise the impact that our travel will have on the environment. We can travel by train to those easily-reached destinations across the UK and Europe and we can also offset the carbon used during flights by signing up to the airlines carbon offsetting scheme.

It doesn’t stop there thought.  Hotels across the world are now embracing this green getaway revolution and are saving energy without saving on style. With sustainable hotel design and through new energy efficient technology, hotels will produce less carbon emissions making them alternative and greener option. More regular visitors of hotels may have noticed, for example, the quick sweep of uptake of movement-activated lighting.

One hotel group that has embraced this greener way of running a successful business and a more eco-conscious hotel is the Apex Hotel group. Apex Hotels have not only ensured that their hotels are greener by incorporating many energy saving measures, but they have also used existing buildings and upgraded them to the highest energy efficient standard possible. Within the Apex Hotels, they have installed many energy saving measures such as efficient boilers, flow restrictors for more energy efficient showers, and high specification glazing to help minimise heat loss.

They have also introduced LED lighting, and as proved in Lit Up, the  recent report we published, LED technology looks like a highly efficient alternative to the standard incandescent light bulbs.

If you prefer  your eco-hotels to be a little more boutique and a little less ‘chain’, then there are loads around the UK to tempt you though their environmentally  sourced doors. To name just one, the Scarlet Hotel in Cornwall has pulled out the stops with their environmental credentials. Electric car charging points, biomass burners, and solar panels to keep the pool toasty are all as standard.

Perhaps the safe eco-hotel option like the sustainable Apex Hotels is a little too tame for many eco tourists. If that is the case, then they is a whole world of eco hotels and hostels spread across the globe. And if you can travel there in the most energy efficient way possible then why not get off the beaten track and visit the less conventional hotel.  There is also loads of information available on the Green Tourism Business Scheme website about UK green tourism; you can also search for green eco hotels across the globe using the It’s a Green World database.

Ultimately, we’re not saying people should stay exactly where they are in pursuit of sustainability – it’s just that heightened consciousness about the impactof our actions doesn’t hurt. Of course you also need the infrastructure to help you make a change, so it’s heartening to see progress being made, offering the chance to carry a lighter load on the way back home from adventures further afield.

Save more, use more: best laid plans versus the great paradox

Is this man the enemy of us hitting our carbon reduction targets? Well, no – the great economic mind that was William Stanley Jevons has not been with us in physical form for well over a century.

It’s fair to say, though, that he does still loom large over the energy efficiency debate, despite the undeniable fact that things have moved on a bit from his day, when cutting demand generally meant using less coal, and using less coal only.

Although we’re somewhat less coal-fired when we were back in Jevons’ day and there are of course more energy-saving options on the table – continued advances in insulation, passive heating, solar panels, heat pumps, not to mention more energy-sensible appliances in our homes to name but a few – the best way forward is still to use less.

And it’s also the case that his famed paradox, better known as the ‘rebound effect’ still has a lot to say about today’s efforts to cut the electricity we’re drawing and the gas we’re burning. It’s something we’re concerned about.

The gist is this – when people switch to an appliance or system that is more efficient, they will use the more efficient appliance more often. For instance, you might decide not to worry about turning your energy saving light bulb off every time you leave the room, because you know it is costing you less to run than an old fashioned bulb. So whilst efficiency is improved, overall energy consumption is not reduced, but can stay much the same.

Nightmare! Sadly, there’s more. Another scary but nonetheless realistic possibility is that as the energy efficiency of a product increases, it will see a corresponding increase in popularity and thus cancel out the individual saving because of its ubiquity.

Then there’s the sort of uber-rebound: you save money on your energy bills so you spend it to buy a plane ticket or supplement your savings to buy a Ferrari and hit the road hard.

A recent study published in the Energy Policy journal and reported by the Guardian sheds further light on how we’re rebounding and by how much. Hold on to your hats:

They found that on average, only about two-thirds of the calculated carbon reductions are likely to be achieved for typical household actions such as lowering the thermostat or reducing food waste. Money saved on the weekly food bill by reducing food waste is money available for going out for dinner at the exotic Thai restaurant on the weekend.

Of course, it is possible that the money saved on the weekly food bill will be spent on an energy-efficient washing machine instead. But it is also possible that the money saved becomes an exotic Thai holiday rather than a Thai meal. In this case, the low-carbon behaviour would have backfired completely.

The same paper even more recently highlighted the specific recent problem of our lust for digital technology, pointing out that while efficiency is rising massively, cost-price and production cost are falling at a similarly dramatic rate, and the corresponding demand negating the ‘green’ credentials of the sector.

Even more disturbing than the Jevons paradox is the incredibly titled Khazzoom-Brookes postulate which suggests that any improvement in energy efficiency within a small section in the economy lead not just to an rebound in energy consumption, but to an overall increase in energy consumption at in the bigger picture.

So what’s to be done? What’s clear is we can’t wait for a critical mass of technological advancement, and increased efficiency to level out demand for energy.  Within a society that is increasingly geared towards consumerism, and perpetual economic growth, how do we ensure that as we all get wealthier, our increasing disposal income is not cause greater demand for energy?

It’s got a lot to do with making changes to our behaviour simultaneously with making energy efficient advances in the products we buy and our homes. Insulation plus knocking that thermostat back a degree plus thinking about whether you really need the washer with the massive drum, for example. Taking a second to switch that ultra-efficient tablet off en-masse when it’s not floating on the information ether, for another.

There does have to be a shift in lifestyles to the point where sustainable behaviour in all parts of our lives is no longer seen as a drag, but something very normal and natural.  As the article concludes:

People can be nudged into making a specific change, but to adopt a low-carbon lifestyle, they need to think about it for themselves. It is tempting to go for the quick wins – but without an opportunity for more meaningful engagement with the issue, the danger is that people will unwittingly crank up the carbon in other areas of their lives.

Certainly, rebounding, and trying to avoid it, an area we’ll be exploring more in the next few months.

With thanks to this great piece on for part of the inspiration for this blog.


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