How carbon calculators can help to educate and change behaviour

Panel: Panel 2 Technology and Behaviour

Dr. Paula Owen, Energy Saving Trust/Department of Energy and Climate Change, London, United Kingdom


In June 2007, the UK government, in partnership with the Energy Saving Trust, launched its first official carbon calculator aimed at the general public.  The main aims of the calculator were to:

  • educate the British public regarding what a carbon footprint is
  • allow the public to calculate their own footprint quickly and easily and compare this with national averages and other comparators
  • provide the user with a personalised ‘Action plan’ with tips and actions based on their individual answers (a first in terms of existing calculator tools) in order to help them reduce their carbon footprint.

Two years after launch the Calculator had proven exceedingly successful.  In the first 24 months it had attracted over 1.7 million unique visitors and has an unprecedented completion   rate of 40% (for which it has won a ‘Best Use of Web’ award in the New Media Age awards 2008, among other awards).

The completion rate is particularly exceptional as the user has to answer up to 70 questions regarding their Home Heating, Lighting and Appliances, Personal Transport and Flights, and the questionnaire can take up to 10 minutes to complete.

The questions cover all aspects of the fabric and heating systems of the home, as well as covering both ownership and, most importantly, usage of all the major domestic energy-using products and appliances, and hence have provided a very rich dataset in which approximately 500,000 footprints have been analysed to reveal the most comprehensive view of UK consumer’s energy use ever created.

This paper will discuss the main findings of the learnings from analysis of calculator use and the dataset, and provide a commentary of what this means for UK domestic energy consumption.


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