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Beck Collins

Name: Beck Collins

Research Title: Interventions to Facilitate Energy Behaviour Change

Name of Director of Studies: Prof. David Boyd

Key Contact Details - Email: beck.collins@bcu.ac.uk

About the Project: Climate change is widely accepted as one of the greatest threats of the modern age, and is thought to be the result of human use of fossil fuels. Many national and international laws now oblige the reduction of carbon emissions. One particular focus in the UK is the residential sector, responsible for at least a quarter of UK carbon emissions, specifically through energy efficiency refurbishment and behaviour change projects. However, energy users are often ‘locked-in’ to certain energy systems and practices as part of national sociotechnical regimes, which can take a generation to change. Previous studies, however, have not explored what happens in individual, localised projects as part of system transition to sustainable energy use. This research explores what happens in those projects from start to finish, from both an organisational point of view and from the residents’ point of view.

Research Activities: Two Birmingham-based case studies were used here to explore such projects in their entirety; one a community group-led project, and one a local authority-led project. Interviews were carried out with both the organisers of the projects, and those who benefitted from them at two time points: near the beginning of the projects, and then a year later.

The interviews sought to uncover the residents’ perceptions of their energy behaviour and whether there had been any change since their involvement in the project. They also sought to understand the assumptions of the organisers about the people they were trying to help, the role of behaviour change in the projects, and to explore why the projects had been carried out in the way that they had.

Findings: In both projects a multitude of causative beliefs were found relating to both the problems that each project was trying to solve, the solutions to those problems, and hence the nature of success.

Success was interpreted differently by different organisers, depending on their own priorities in the complex interconnected issues of energy and social sustainability in a diverse and in some cases, deprived city.

Behaviour change was not always a priority for project organisers. However, for behaviour change to occur, both technological ‘pushes’ - economic concerns and environmental concerns - were all found to be necessary to achieve real and lasting behaviour change.

The research demonstrates that in many projects there are positive outcomes for some individuals, although not always the outcome they originally hoped for. It also demonstrates that multi-agenda projects are more likely to be considered successful because they address more complex problems. This also allows the sort of holistic and systemic change necessary for individuals’ energy behaviour to change. Successful projects are more likely to be built upon, allowing systemic change over a long time. System transition happens over a generation through a series of small steps; this research demonstrates what a single step might look like, and how it can be capitalised upon.

Achievements:

  • Collins, B. 2013. "The Process of an Intervention for Change." Paper presented at the Faculty of Technology, Engineering and Environment Research Conference, 26th March 2013, Birmingham City University.
  • Collins, B. 2012. "Do Solar Panels Change Behaviour? Insights from a Birmingham Case Study." Urban Sustainability and Resilience Conference. University College London. 5-7 November 2012. Conference Proceedings.
  • Collins, B. 2012. "From Practice to PhD: Methodological Reflections", Paper Presented at the Faculty of Technology, Engineering and Environment Research Conference, Birmingham City University.
  • Collins, B., Eden, L., Hardman, M., Onyido, B. and Smith, J. (2011) "Official Community Governance vs. Unofficial Community Activism in Sustainability Issues", Paper presented at: UK/Ireland Planning Research Conference, University of Birmingham.
  • Collins, B. & Boyd, D. 2011. Exploring Different Community Attitudes to Sustainable Technologies. In: Managing Innovation for a Sustainable Built Environment, 20th June 2011 -23rd June 2011 Amsterdam.

As a result of this research, Beck has also assisted Birmingham City Council (BCC) on several occasions with their procurement process for a Green Deal Delivery Partner and conducted further research for them.

Affiliations: Birmingham City Council, Sustainable Moseley