How to engage students towards energy reduction

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The Telegraph was one of the many newspapers reporting that February 2018 saw a record number of households switch their energy supplier, indicating the ever-increasingly competitive energy market is showing no signs of taking a breather.

But whilst consumers are showing proactivity within finding the best energy deal on one hand, on the other, they are falling short in understanding that simple changes to their behaviour can also affect the bottom line in their home energy bills. The Energy Saving Trust estimates we could save a collective £1.7 billion a year by just switching off electrical items alone.

What is the key in encouraging pro-environmental behaviours?

Applying behavioural insights and testing their impact is a way to understand the methods to employ. In the government's white paper "Behaviour Change and Energy Use", the authors suggest social influence is key in persuading and even dissuading individuals to act in a more energy efficient way; the views of those in our social network will have a bearing on the way we perceive and can be persuaded. Consequently, they identified a method to engage by offering a financial incentive to the individuals engaging with their neighbours and reaching a minimum number of people to qualify for the prize. The more individuals persuaded others to get involved in their local community, the bigger the value of the prize.

Apply this to the student audience of today: 18-24 year-olds, ready and eager to formulate their own views and behaviours, living in accommodation that is ever-increasingly becoming a space which promotes social integration and a community atmosphere. What you have is a prime audience ready to galvanise in adopting energy-reducing behaviours.

However, don't underestimate the fact that convenience will more often than not trump conservation. In the context of today's society, where the culture of immediacy is taken for granted, students will be unforgiving if the method of engaging takes more than a nanosecond for them to complete. If you fail, you will lose them in a heartbeat. Add to this statistics demonstrating today's younger generation have a significant decrease in practical energy knowledge, and you may be forgiven for thinking you have an even harder audience to engage. See the glass as half full, and you have an opportunity to educate.

Education is key for energy reduction

A recent YouGov poll which showed that as little as 1 in 9 students knew how to change a lightbulb inspired The Student Energy Project to create a workshop with the aim to give students a bigger picture of Climate Change, followed by an interactive game challenging the student audience to consider what saved more energy; turning off their laptop overnight, or putting a lid on a saucepan? Students were prompted to consider everyday situations and think about what would use more energy, after guessing, they were presented with the results along with a CO2 equivalent. Educating students on the practical elements of energy saving is one critical component required to allow a student to become more receptive in ways to save energy. If they understand it, they will be more open to being influenced.

Several variables are at play when considering how to engage students in energy reduction: their demographic, understanding their motivators, and appreciating the culture of immediacy they are accustomed to. One thing is for sure: consistency is key.

This is evident where TSEP trialled 2 different products during 2017/18's first semester consisting of "TSEP Light"; which is designed as a toolkit for accommodation managers to facilitate their own in-house campaign. This product from TSEP's perspective involves very little communication with the students, so the onus is on the accommodation staff to have the capacity to run with the campaign on a consistent level. The TSEP standard product in contrast, is a lot more comprehensive and involves regular communication and close interaction with the students.

Of the residences who were part of the light product, a total 2% energy saving was achieved. In the residences where the standard product was in operation, not only was there greater engagement , but a total 9% energy saving was achieved, supporting the notion that if an in-house campaign is in operation, it is critical that the staff resource is in place to give it the time and effort required to produce the maximum energy savings possible.

TSEP operates several services designed to build awareness amongst students and staff on how to reduce their energy consumption. For further information contact the team

Tori Wheeler