British Gas New Energy was launched in 2007 to supply the growing British market for low-carbon and energy-efficient products and services. It is part of Centrica, an energy utility with 27,500 staff, a turnover of over £21bn (2008) and operations in 11 countries.
In 2008, British Gas launched 'Green Streets', a year-long experiment in which groups of households in eight streets in eight cities competed to save the most energy. The eight households in each street received an energy audit and £30,000 to spend on domestic energy-saving equipment, backed by ongoing access to energy efficiency advice. By the end of the competition, the households had saved an average of 25% of their energy use and cut their CO2 emissions by 23%. A group of householders in Leeds emerged as champions, with a near-35% energy saving (see chart), and won £50,000 for their local community.
Green Streets was a communications success at several levels. Many of the participating residents themselves reported having changed aspects of their behaviour. Most felt they would sustain these changes. Unexpectedly, the project also boosted community spirit and social cohesion.
The scheme proved a useful test-bed too for different techniques to encourage pro-environment behaviour change among households. Provision of hand-held electricity meters and of energy efficiency advisers both emerged as important factors.
The project's vivid demonstration that households can make large energy savings relatively simply became a national news story. Coverage included television, radio and newspapers, generating an estimated 127 million opportunities to see and hear about Green Streets over the year. British Gas puts the incremental PR value it gained from the coverage at £4m.
The experiment also attracted much official attention and praise. Seven MPs visited a Green Street, including the secretaries of state for environment and energy and climate change.
Building on the success of Green Streets, British Gas has launched a second phase for 2010, and has received more than 50 applications from streets around Britain.
Business Support Kent
IPPR report on Green Streets 2008