Changing Residents’ Behaviour is the Key to Meeting Net Zero Targets

Latest research has revealed that encouraging residents to make more sustainable decisions in their accommodation can help to reduce a building’s carbon emissions by up to 35%. An independent study entitled Changing Behaviours, conducted in collaboration by ASK4, Utopi and Spike Global, investigates the behaviour of residents living across a range of residential housing to determine how their energy use can affect net zero targets. The research focuses on the barriers currently preventing residents making a switch to more sustainable behaviours, the importance of education, and the role behavioural science and technology can play in reducing energy consumption.

The research reveals that 65% of millennials and 70% of Gen-Z, would be prepared to make major changes to their own lifestyles to combat climate change. The report also looks into the challenges the wider residential sector faces when it comes to energy efficacy and examines the best methods to reduce excess energy consumption. Strategies that encourage residents to conform to the wider group can be used to promote sustainable behaviour too. Delivering energy usage statistics and data directly to the end user in comparison to their neighbours’ energy consumption can result in a more considered approach to the amount of energy they use, ultimately leading to a reduction in carbon emissions.

As part of the research, Utopi compared two identical electrically heated student flats, one of which was heated between 18-22 degrees Celsius, with the other heated between 25-30 degrees. At the end of a six-month period, data revealed that the overheated flat used 1670% more electricity – equivalent to an additional £1474, or 1.65 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Ben Roberts, Co-Founder & CMO of Utopi comments: “Excess energy consumption is a longstanding source of frustration within the residential market, and in particular within the PBSA sector which is why it’s crucial to communicate residents’ own energy use in a way that is clear and easy to understand. For example, students will often open a window or turn on a fan before turning down the heating, leading to unnecessary waste. Our own research reveals a real need to balance student freedom of behaviour with the need to meet carbon emissions and energy costs targets, and it is clear that turning the heating down by just a few degrees can save hundreds of pounds and reduce our carbon footprint.”

Jonny Wootten, Marketing Director at Spike Global, comments: “Industry net zero targets are inextricably linked to residents’ own energy and water consumption. As we enter a cost of living and ecological crisis there is a real emphasis on how we begin the conversation to empower residents to take positive action and reduce their energy waste. Not everyone may fully understand all the jargon, such as what a kilowatt hour means. We use resident portals to engage and educate residents directly, in a way that’s easy to understand.”

The report found that turning the heating up by three points in an average apartment can double the amount of electricity consumed. This poses a serious challenge for the PBSA sector, which relies on the ‘all-inclusive bills’ model to attract students. While 70% of students found all-inclusive bills to be a key desirability factory in their property search, damning data shows that students use up to 35% more electricity than accommodation where utilities are billed separately.

Jess Glover, Head of Marketing at ASK4, comments: “Clearly there is an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude. There is a stark need for education in the PBSA sector, and the solution begins with raising awareness of residents’ energy use via easy to access data.”

This data helps residents recognise and understand their patterns of energy and water usage, and crucially compare their results to others. As one resident cited in the research: “we can only know [how to reduce our consumption] if they make us aware of [it] and the operators don’t do that”.  The research found that this approach is most successful when data is presented in an empowering manner that is easy, attractive, timely and social. One resident added: “You need to compare with something or someone. Without comparison of how you are doing, you don’t know how to interpret your usage.”

Furthermore, there is mounting evidence to suggest that investing in developing a community not only enhances the resident experience – it can also lead to better outcomes. Research revealed that residents will behave in a way that benefits the collective if they feel attracted to where they live. If people feel like they are part of a wider community tackling climate change, they are more likely to join the movement. The use of resident portals offers an effective way to foster a sense of belonging within a building.

Jonny Wootten adds: “Resident portals can be customised to include handy tips such as location of recycling bins, alongside energy use messaging, making it easy for residents to make small sustainable changes to the way they live. Pair this with personalised messaging to motivate the end user, and timely prompts are provided when residents are most likely to be receptive, and residentially providers could make great strides to meet their own ESG targets”

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