An Overview Of Our Solution
The 'EnergyNeighbourhoods' program is an energy efficiency and energy saving program where 5-12 households making up small groups (i.e. 'EnergyNeighbourhoods') work towards reducing their energy consumption through changing everyday behavior in the framework of a competition. Groups are lead by voluntary 'Energy Masters' trained and supported by the organizers. Special emphasis is placed on raising awareness of households’ responsibility for climate change, showing that anyone can save energy through behavior change, and creating communities to support and maintain the change. EnergyNeighbourhoods uses a variety of tools and motivators to cater for the needs of different personality types. Its most important objective is to support individuals and groups to become change agents and role models. The program has been run by GreenDependent Institute for 7 years.
- Population Impacted 800 households, cc. 3000-3500 people directly
- Continent: Europe
In Hungary, households are responsible for 30% of CO2 emission and 40% of energy use. So far, most interventions have addressed technological aspects.
Resulting from unpredictable energy prices, energy dependence and climate change, many households and communities would like to do something actively. However, they are often confused about what to do. They also believe that they are unable to change their consumption patterns (and have any influence on their emissions) because of lack of money. Iindividuals and households need to know and experience that it is possible to achieve reduce energy use through everyday behaviour change.
Households also need to know where they stand in terms of everyday energy efficient practices, and how they can move forward. Research revealed that people tend to believe that they do everything they can and they could not save more while 64% of them do not even monitor their consumption, and only mention very basic actions when asked about energy saving.
Describe the technical solution you wanted the target audience to adopt
We did not have a specific technical solution that we wanted the target audience to adopt. We believe that we need to help people adopt a green/low-carbon/sustainable energy "thinking cap" and then find the best solution available locally, in their specific circumstances. The EnergyNeighbourhoods program does this by creating small groups, providing varied supporting materials and tools, training and enabling local 'energy masters' to create and maintain behavior change. It also rewards and celebrates sustainable behavior as the best performing EnergyNeighbourhoods and those who manage to save at least 9% energy compared to their past consumption are rewarded at a closing community event.
Everything in the program is geared towards enabling households to taking charge of their own change process: a local group is created, a DIY energy audit tool is provided that helps households assess their current energy use and set targets for themselves, i.e. co-design their change process, etc.
Type of intervention
Describe your behavioral intervention
The EnergyNeighbourhoods program intends to change every day energy use behavior. It starts from direct energy use in the home (i.e. heating, lighting, hot water, electronic equipment, etc.), but during the program also tackles food, mobility as well as free time and entertainment, thus more indirect energy use. It intends to change everyday routines, habits and practices. The program has a research-based methodology. Although the methodology has evolved to incorporate experience and research findings, the core principles remained the same and reflect research findings presented in the relevant literature:
1. Relying on small groups of 5-8 households - called EnergyNeighbourhoods - as the basic unit of intervention and change, small groups are facilitators and enablers of behaviour change, help question and change social norms, help tackle social dilemmas, empower individuals, and have been found to be important in exerting pressure on individuals to follow sustainable norms;
2. Building on the theory of interpersonal behaviour through recognizing the importance of social factors and emotions as well as of past behaviour in shaping current practices;
3. Achieving energy saving and thus behaviour change through voluntary participation;
4. Using a variety of means, enablers and motivators, in other words, tools, simultaneously in order to cater for the needs of different personality types; and,
5. Supporting individuals and groups to become change agents and role models.
As needed, please explain the type of intervention in more detail
Participating households are given an active role and are invited to co-design their own change process. This way there is more likelihood that the change will be long-term and the new behavior established will persist. As households decide about their own change and energy saving actions within the framework provided and using the tools of the program, they are also more likely to continue with the change afterwards. Households and groups are asked to present their success stories themselves at the final event.
We aim to create positive feelings towards sustainable lifestyles through showing that they are possible for everyone, through gamification, and rewarding sustainable behavior and organizing enjoyable community events.
Describe your implementation
•Specific activities :
Each season is built up like this:
Months 1-3: recruiting and training local coordinators (energy masters) who then organize groups (EnergyNeighbourhoods). The groups are free to organize themselves as they like, but we provide materials for group meetings (plans, ideas, tools).
Months 4-9: On the one hand, EnergyNeighbourhoods meet and monitor their consumption through using the online calculator. They receive thematic saving tips every 2 weeks, and are given energy monitors. On the other hand, we set 3 or 4 challenges for them to complete as a group: energy audit first, and then more creative ones: e.g. reduce electricity consumption by 30% from one week to the next, create a low-carbon menu for a week, plan a low-carbon holiday or party, etc. Halfway through a follow-up training is organized for coordinators.
Months 10-11: evaluation and celebratory community event where groups meet and tell their story, prizes are given, native fruit trees are distributed, and input with discussion is provided for future.
•Ensuring that behavior is adopted:
We collect and provide feedback.
Quantitative: we monitor and measure consumption
Qualitative: we do before and after surveys, participants fill in energy audits and then a survey on change / we perform case studies / we set challenges and collect completion reports / groups prepare reports on their story and present at final event
We train and support local coordinators, we support the creation of groups to help the change process, we use social media, mailing lists, and are generally available for support.
We also provide a lot of tools that participants can select from.
•Key success factors:
Varied tools for communication and supporting behavior change
Good management and constant contact with local coordinators
Training for local coordinators
Fun community events organized in a sustainable way
Funders: first the European Commission, then the E.ON Hungary Group
With funders our relationship has become more active since we started working with E.ON. Representatives of E.ON participate at events (training of coordinators and celebratory community event), and E.ON employees were encouraged to participate through organizing EnergyNeighbourhoods from employees. This has worked well.
NGOs helping to involve households and delegating volunteers to become energy masters, most importantly the Large Families Association, Bagázs Public Benefit Association (working with Roma communities), Small Communities in Transition network, etc. GreenDependent aimed at working with NGOs that are not typically "green" but are from the social or other sectors in order to reach households that are less familiar with green lifestyles.
Media: we engaged the media to report about the program through press releases, blogs, articles, radio and TV interviews. In some seasons we managed to convince members of the media to organize their own EnergyNeighbourhood and report regularly about the program. A national TV channel prepared a short film about us.
Policy makers: the parliamentary commissioner for future generations has been the patron of the program, provided space for training events and also spoke at the final event since the beginning.
We tried - with varying levels of success - to engage municipalities in the program through involving them in supporting local EnergyNeighbourhoods.
Who adopted the desired behaviors and to what degree?
For every season (6 so far, currently running the 7th) we managed to involve between 100-150 households, so far cc. 800 households. In addition, we trained more than 170 individuals to become local coordinators (energy masters).
Participating households fill in a DIY energy audit as part of which they set their own saving targets including specific behavior change actions. At the end of the program, households self-report on the achievement of their targets, and also whether they set extra targets during the program. As we don't evaluate whether they are successful or not, but whether they fill in the audit and self-report properly, we believe we get relatively honest responses. Generally, they manage to achieve 70-80% of their target, and a lot of them set extra targets. The space here is too small for providing details.
We also survey local coordinators/energy masters to understand their motivation and help them become better change agents.
How did you impact natural resource use and greenhouse gas emissions?
We measure energy use reduction in kWh and CO2 emissions avoided in kg, both monitored and measured with the help of an online calculator.
Using this tool we calculate the average (all participants) saving for every season: it is generally around 8-10 % as compared to historic consumption (no large energy-related renovation is allowed and energy use is weighted with external temperature).
However, best-performing EnergyNeighbourhoods save more, between 15-30% percent of energy, sometime more. See more details at http://intezet.greendependent.org/en/node/297.
In addition, GreenDependent also calculates the carbon footprint of all program events and plants native fruit trees with the involvement of participants to compensate CO2 emissions. For every season 100-120 native trees are planted, so altogether more than 620 trees have been planted.
What were some of the resulting co-benefits?
Community/social: local communities supporting low-carbon lifestyles have been created, a larger, partly virtual low-carbon community has been created, so people following such a lifestyle do not feel alone.
Participants gained support, feedback, expertise and motivation for further action. A lot of them saved money that they invested in further sustainability action (e.g. renewables, insulation).
For some participants - mothers/fathers on child leave, unemployed, students, pensioners - being a local coordinator opened new (employment) prospects: they learned new skills and sometimes started on a new carrier path.
Biodiversity conservation: through planting native fruit trees purchase from a gene bank, participants also contributed to conserving biodiversity and created local food growing opportunities.
First, EnergyNeighbourhoods was run in Hungary between 2011-2013 with support from a European Union grant. After the grant ran out, GreenDependent managed to secure funding and establish a good cooperation with a utility company (the E.ON group) and has run the program every since in this framework. Households can participate free of charge to ensure that a lack of financial resources does not become an obstacle to change towards more sustainable living.
As GreenDependent continues to work on other sustainable energy projects, including research projects, it has managed to make sure that the methodology has been constantly updated. It has also contributed some of its own resources to developing and maintaining the program.
Return on investment
This question is not really relevant for our initiative.
However, the initial larger investment by the European Union has produced returns in that the tools created during the funding period (2011-2013) are still in use. The utility company E.ON did not need to fund the creation of tools, simply the running and organization of the program, the maintenance of the tools, the development of some new tools, and finally providing rewards for households.
As behavior change is a long-term process especially in a larger environment that is not very supportive of this change and does not reward sustainable energy behavior, this program cannot be viewed as an economically self-sufficient program.
How could we successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?
The program has a long history: it originally started in Belgium, and then the methodology was replicated and adapted first in 9 and then 16 countries with support from the Intelligent Energy Europe Program. It was first adapted to Hungarian circumstances in 2011 and has since been organized every year. Following European funding, the program was implemented in Hungary with support from energy utility company.
Furthermore, the program is suitable for very different types of households: bigger and smaller, less and more well-to-do, etc. Last year, GreenDependent also tested it with disadvantaged groups (a Roma community living in poverty), and with very promising outcomes: the disadvantaged Roma EnergyNeighbourhood not only managed to save energy, but won one of the first prizes, i.e. was one of the best-performing groups.
Finally, there is currently interest from organizations in several countries (Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, etc.) who expressed their wish to learn the methodology.