Five things that consumers most like about low carbon choices

Low carbon choices with practical impacts and personal benefits are the most appealing to the public.

Reliability, flexibility, ease of use, trust and familiarity, and cost-effectiveness are the five key attributes that consumers look for in low-carbon innovations, shows new research led by Hazel Pettifor and Charlie Wilson at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia published in the journal of Energy Research and Social Science.

Consumer decisions are heavily influenced by lock-in to high carbon infrastructure. However, there is a choice of options. Twenty eight percent of  the United Kingdom’s emissions come from transport, the highest emitting sector since 2016. Homes were responsible for 15% of UK emissions, mostly from heating and cooking, according to the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy figures.

“Low carbon innovations have the potential to significantly reduce national emissions by offering alternatives to high carbon lifestyles or high carbon locked-in technologies,” said lead researcher Pettifor.

“There are many low carbon innovations readily available, their adoption depends on whether their key attributes appeal to consumers,” adds Pettifor.

The study looked at the low-carbon innovations in four sectors — mobility, food, homes, and energy — and what makes them appeal to consumers. The study interviewed 67 participants who talked about how different low-carbon innovations appealed to people in general. The participants then ranked the innovations from 1 (low appeal) to 7 (high appeal).

Taxi sharing or car clubs offer alternatives and challenge the incumbent practice of individual car ownership. Mobility as a Service offers mobility based on travel needs, is perceived as convenient and more sustainable than private car ownership, shows the study.

Mobility as a Service is most appealing to consumers because of ease of access and flexibility, accessing through smartphones, similar to Moovit and Trafi.

For food, innovations like rooftop farms and peer-to-peer food sharing apps help reduce food consumption and waste. They also help reduce food miles.

Rooftop gardens and food hubs were found to appeal to consumers because of their wider social benefits including the local economy.

At home, innovations like smart appliances improve homes by using modern technology to make their functions faster, cheaper, and more energy efficient. Peer-to-peer electricity trading is an innovation where people can sell and buy excess energy from their neighbours. Often, this excess energy comes from solar energy that can be transferred to other users on the grid through a secure platform. It decentralises energy supply and challenges energy waste and models of centralised electricity or gas.

Smart appliances are highly appealing because of their novelty but also fits easily with familiar lifestyle practices, already known to consumers.

Low-carbon innovations also need an added value to increase their appeal. “Consumers need encouragement beyond cheapness and convenience, innovations need to make clear to consumers their unique added value,” said Charlie Wilson.

Across mobility, food, and home, there is potential added value beyond their environmental benefit. Many of these innovations build and strengthen local communities and encourage relationships and friendships, according to the participants.

“Proactive positive marketing by companies, government, local authorities will help bring low-carbon innovations to the attention of consumers, including benefits and added value,” concludes Wilson.


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