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Failure to engage consumers and remove barriers puts net zero targets at risk

Smart Energy GB releases guide to helping people play their part in tackling climate change

  • 44% of Britons are unsure of what actions they can take to tackle climate change
  • Individual actions play a vital part in reaching net zero
  • Report identifies five main factors that determine the level of action, with cost-saving named as the biggest motivating factor
  • Disposable income; age and property type are significant influencers of whether people can take action
  • Being a consumer in vulnerable circumstances should not be assumed to be a barrier to action
  • Living in a rental property is a significant barrier in need of remedy
  • Report outlines a number of recommendations for driving action on climate change

30th September 2021: New research has revealed that over three quarters (76%) of Britons think that it is the responsibility of government and businesses to get the country to net zero, with nearly half (44%) unsure of what individual actions they can personally take to help tackle climate change.

And according to Smart Energy GB, if this failure to engage consumers and remove barriers isn’t addressed soon, efforts to reach net zero by 2050 may be at risk.

The organisation has many years of experience in consumer engagement activities through its work on the smart meter rollout, encouraging consumers to take action to lay the foundations for a zero-carbon electricity system by making the upgrade to a smart meter.

This experience has now been brought to bear in a new report, Tackling Climate Change from Home: How to Turn Good Intentions into Positive Actions. Written by The Behavioural Architects, the paper explores how behavioural science can help engage consumers in climate-friendly behaviours, and investigates the barriers to undertaking those behaviours. It assesses why individual’s good intentions have not yet translated into action, and makes recommendations on how organisations can communicate with the public around climate change.

Commenting on the report, Robert Cheesewright, Director at Smart Energy GB, said:

“We all want to see action on climate change, but we each need the right conditions if we’re to play our part. So far, not enough attention has been given to how we can enable households across the country to take the actions required.

“Confusion around who should be tackling the problem, combined with uncertainty as to how individuals can make a difference, means that the shift in consumer behaviour required to cut emissions is just not happening.

“There is a need for the Government to focus on this challenge, remove barriers to the uptake of low carbon technologies, and communicate clearly to the public on what they can do to make a difference.

“Smart Energy GB is currently overseeing one of the biggest carbon-saving consumer engagement campaigns of our generation. With over 25 million smart meters now installed, our experience is that clear and consistent messaging, informed by in-depth behavioural science, can help turn individuals’ good environmental intentions into tangible actions.”

Camilla Cooper, Director at The Behavioural Architects, said:

“Household-level behaviour change is critical to achieving the government's net zero target. Although motivation to address climate change is high, motivation alone is not enough to drive sustained behaviour change. Contextual triggers and ensuring ease of adoption are both vital for encouraging energy-efficient behaviours around the home, so that we can all help tackle the climate crisis.”

The report identifies five key motivators for adopting energy-efficiency behaviours, with the strongest found to be cost-saving. This is followed by a desire to protect the planet for future generations, and then by an inherent motivation to waste less. Only a minority are primarily motivated to adopt new behaviours by the desire to feel tech savvy or ‘green.’

The report also investigated the characteristics that influence uptake of planet-saving products and actions, with the results challenging common assumptions about barriers to taking action. It found that for those identified as being in a vulnerable group, including people aged 75+ and those living with a disability or health issue, their condition isn’t generally a barrier to their ability or motivation to carry out energy-efficiency behaviours. However, the report suggests that providing more information on ease of action, such as the amount of time required, will be helpful in reassuring these groups and will in turn enable them to undertake more environmentally-friendly steps.

In addition, those on a lower income are often already doing several climate-friendly behaviours in order to save money - particularly washing clothes at 30 degrees or under and lowering the thermostat temperature. This group can be motivated by cost-saving information, particularly if broken down into monthly savings and over £10 per month. In contrast, higher earners are much less likely to be motivated by cost-savings and instead respond more positively to messaging which makes them feel tech-savvy or ahead of the curve.

Another key group where a new approach is needed is in relation to property type, with renting emerging as a significant obstacle to uptake of energy-efficiency behaviours. It is much harder to persuade people to get anything that requires installation, such as a smart thermostat or smart meter, because of the perceived or actual barrier of getting landlord permission. In addition, one-off actions like draught-proofing are perceived as not worth the effort given that renters won't enjoy the benefit long-term. To counteract this, the report recommends empowering those in shared accommodation by communicating behaviours as social norms, not as personal preferences. This is needed alongside government measures to reduce barriers and increase incentives for those in the private rental sector, in particular.

Age was also found to be an influencing factor, with parents and grandparents more concerned about the future their children and grandchildren will experience, and those who spend time with younger children found to be especially likely to worry about the future. For this group, referencing children or future generations in communications will help to motivate behaviour change.

Taking these findings into account, the report includes recommendations for organisations on how to communicate with the public when trying to encourage them to take planet-saving action at home.

  1. Make sure that any communications reflect language already used by the public.
  2. Avoid using the government’s net zero target as a motivator.
  3. Ensure that communications don’t come across as didactic in tone.
  4. Use emotional rather than rational framing.
  5. Promote energy-efficiency advice alongside climate change articles in the media.
  6. Wherever possible communicate multiple benefits to carrying out a behaviour. Number one on this list should be cost-savings

A full copy of the report and recommendations is at


Notes to editors

About the polling

OnePoll surveyed 2000 UK Adults from 20th September to 22nd September 2021. The survey was conducted online via the OnePoll website, polling our panel who are paid to participate in surveys. Respondents were targeted on a nationally representative basis for age, gender and region.

About the report

Smart Energy GB commissioned The Behavioural Architects to conduct both secondary and primary research to update current understanding of the drivers of the intention-action gap for energy-efficiency behaviours, and opportunities to minimise it. The research investigated eight in-home energy-efficiency behaviours, covering: knowledge & understanding of these behaviours, ease of adoption and the perceived personal benefits beyond broader environmental benefits. The research comprised in-depth 2 hour paired interviews with 30 people from 30th Jul - 12th Aug.

You can download the full report here.

About The Behavioural Architects

The Behavioural Architects is an award-winning global insight, research and strategic consultancy. They use the latest thinking from the behavioural sciences to help organisations better understand, influence and measure behaviour. For more information visit

About smart meters and the rollout

Smart meters are the next generation of digital gas and electricity meters, providing automatic meter readings and near-real time energy use information for households.

Smart meters and the information they provide will help Britain to achieve net zero by allowing for better management of energy demand and supply, providing people with the visibility needed to reduce their usage, and making the best and most efficient use of wind and solar power. Innovative technology and services enabled by smart metering is pivotal in allowing our country to decarbonise and have more electric vehicles.

Smart meters are available from energy suppliers at no extra cost, and the accompanying in-home display shows energy use in pounds and pence. 25.2 million smart meters have already been installed across Britain.

About Smart Energy GB

Smart Energy GB is the not-for-profit, government-backed campaign helping everyone in Britain to understand the importance of smart meters and their benefits to people and the environment. Our national campaign is reaching homes and microbusinesses across England, Scotland and Wales. For more information visit

Smart Energy GB media contacts

For more information including interview requests, case studies of smart meter users, infographics, photography and video content please contact [email protected]; 07921 458 041  

For the full report, please click here.