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Study on energy efficiency improvements at UK households presents final results: It’s easier to change than people think

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The case for environmental action - particularly on climate change - is clear, and a host of research demonstrates that public awareness of the problem is high. And yet the adoption of even simple solutions remains low. There is a disconnection between our knowledge and our behaviour. The 21st Century Living Project was created to look rigorously and honestly into this gap. A unique group of project partners pooled its skills and resources, and close to 100 ordinary households spent 18 months finding out what they could achieve. Or - just as important - explaining frankly what got in the way.
A total of 100 households were challenged to do what they could to reduce their environmental footprint. They were selected to be nationally representative - including demographics, social groups and house types.
Each household received an initial environmental audit from a member of the project team and an attitudinal survey to understand their views on environmental matters. They were also given a project pack of information and ‘green’ equipment, along with £500 to spend in support of their environmental improvements.
There were four themes: energy, waste, water and other environmental behaviours like travel. Throughout the year the participants were contacted by email, via a website and via a limited number of targeted themed interventions to maintain their interest. In addition, 61 homeowners received a thermal image survey of their property.
After 12 months the environmental audit and attitudinal surveys were repeated and the results analysed. This report summarises the findings.
Among the remaining 84 homes, the most common changes were as follows:
  • 58% increased their use of low-energy light bulbs
  • 55% increased or installed loft insulation
  • 23% replaced white goods with more efficient models
  • 12% replaced their boiler or upgraded the heating system
  • 11% installed cavity wall insulation
  • 10% increased or installed double glazing
  • 14% installed compost bins or wormeries
  • 21% installed a water butt
  • average recycling rates rose from 58% at the start of the project to 63% by the end
  • overall, 81% of households took at least one energy-saving measure, with an average saving of 10%.
The 21st Century Living Project is a collaboration between:
  • The Eden Project, which wants to understand better what works and what doesn’t when it comes to helping people green their homes;
  • Homebase, which wanted to gain in-depth knowledge of customers’ needs for green products - information that will let it develop new offerings to help customers live more sustainably; and
  • Acona, which wanted to contribute to the thinking in this area, and particularly to ground it in down-to-earth practicality.
  • The attitudinal research for the project was carried out by Resolve at the University of Surrey, and the thermal imaging research by the University of Plymouth