Green homes don't translate to sales success
Results from new EU-funded research show that home buyers are unwilling to buy new, energy-efficient houses. Poor communication between builders and buyers is a big part of the problem, say experts studying the behavioural barriers to better and broader acceptance of renewal energy. The project results are part of the CREATE ACCEPTANCE and CHANGING BEHAVIOUR projects, which received EUR 3.83 million in total EU funding.
The housing sector currently accounts for 40% of Europe's energy needs. The lack of energy conservation in this sector is believed to be partly due to energy prices and voluntary regulatory measures.
Both European research initiatives support the need for change in energy use and services across consumer and industrial groups, and are headed by Finnish institutes working in collaboration with a number of researchers from Europe and abroad.
Together, the experts studied the so-called 'sticky information' problem inherent in a project that aimed to promote low-energy technologies used in sustainable housing. Sticky information refers to the way that the knowledge of energy-efficiency experts and that of potential buyers remains 'stuck' in their respective worlds, indicating poor communication flow and exchange.
As part of this project, a competition was organised that invited housing manufacturers to produce energy-efficient homes. Potential buyers were also involved in stages of the competition and included as members of the competition jury. As a result, 10 competitors received the 'green label' branding that both acknowledged the energy conservation efforts and aimed to inspire greater purchasing power.
Despite some success with raising general awareness of energy conservation and services provided by the technologies, house sales generated by the competition were disappointingly low. Some buyers wanted to make modifications that would render the houses no longer energy-efficient. Other buyers did not trust the information supplied to them or simply remained unconvinced of the urgency to conserve energy.
For the CREATE ACCEPTANCE and CHANGING BEHAVIOUR researchers, the project fell short of the mark because of poor communication between the housing manufacturers and the buyers themselves. For instance, the team believes the builders did not adequately address the diversity of potential buyers, the buyer's willingness to participate in the process and be informed, and their desire to tailor the houses to suit their own personal needs.
Looking forward, the researchers recommend greater use of participation methods to improve communication, such as consumer research and focus groups, and by exploring the concept of co-design with buyers. Importantly, these methods would need to be adapted to suit the needs of both manufacturers and buyers and not compromise the overarching goal of low-energy, sustainable housing.
They also point to the option of regulatory instruments on new energy standards, such as building codes, if voluntary strategies fail to work. These would need to be developed in synch with communication strategies to maximise their potential. Beyond regulatory measures as a way to stimulate energy efficient practices, the experts say government bodies could play a greater role by improving the flow of information.
The CREATE ACCEPTANCE ('Cultural influences on renewable energy acceptance and tools for the development of communication strategies to promote acceptance among key actor groups') project was funded EUR 1.35 million under the 'Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems' Thematic area of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). It brought together experts from Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Spain and the UK.
The project is complemented by the more recent ('Contextualising behavioural change in energy programmes involving intermediaries and policymaking organizations working towards changing behaviour') project CHANGING BEHAVIOUR. It gets as part of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) EUR 2.48 million under the Energy Theme.
The CHANGING BEHAVIOUR partners are from Germany, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Finland and the UK.