Opportunities and Barriers to Achieving Transitions in UK Energy and Materials Use - The Role of Publics, Society and Decision-Makers

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Psychology


The UK Government has an ambitious target of reducing CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, and energy demand reduction will have to play a major part in meeting this goal. While traditional research on mitigation of carbon emissions has focused on direct consumption of energy (how we supply energy, what types of fuel we use, and how we use them etc.), the role that materials and products might play in energy demand reduction is far less well studied. One third of the world's energy is used in industry to make products, such as buildings, infrastructure, vehicles and household goods. Most of this energy is expended in producing the key stock materials with which we create modern lifestyles - steel, cement, aluminium, paper, and polymers - and we are already very efficient in producing them. A step change in reducing the energy expended by UK industry can therefore only come about if we are able to identify new ways of designing, using, and delivering products, materials and services.

Before firm recommendations can be made to decision-makers regarding the combined technical and social feasibility of new products and material strategies, a fundamental set of research questions will need to be addressed. These concern how various publics will respond to innovative proposals for product design, governance and use. For example, more energy efficient products may need to operate differently or look very different, while a significant shift from an ownership model to a service delivery model (e.g., direct car ownership to car clubs and rental) can also deliver considerable material efficiency and energy demand reduction. Will members of the wider public and key decision-makers welcome, oppose, or actively drive such supply chain innovations, and what are the implications of knowledge about public views for decision-makers in the corporate and government sector? Understanding the answers to these questions is the main focus of this project.

The research led by Cardiff University, and partnered with the Green Alliance, will combine qualitative and quantitative social science methodologies - in particular expert interviews and workshops, deliberative research and a (GB) national survey. The project has 4 phases, spanning a 45 month period. Work Package 1 involves initial work with UK INDEMAND partners, and interviews with industry and policy representatives, to identify the assumptions being made about people and society in key pathways for materials energy demand reduction. Work Package 2 involves four workshops - held in Edinburgh, Cardiff, London and a rural location - where members of the public will deliberate the identified pathways to change. In Work Package 3 we will conduct a nationally representative survey of 1,000 members of the British public, further exploring public perspectives on ways of designing and changing our use of materials.

A particularly innovative aspect of the project is a set of targeted policy engagement activities (in Work Package 4) where we will hold workshops, interviews and other direct stakeholder involvement, exploring the implications of the findings about public views with key decision-makers in UK businesses, policy and the political sphere (including Parliamentarians through the Green Alliance's Climate Leadership programme for MPs). Along with the empirical data gathered in Work Packages 1, 2, and 3, the activities in Work Package 4 will allow us to formulate clear recommendations for action on achieving a reduction in UK final energy consumption through bringing knowledge of social barriers and opportunities to bear on governmental policy and industry decision-making about innovative materials and products delivery/use.

Planned Impact

Societal and Economic Benefits of the Research

This research will provide findings relating to public and decision-maker attitudes towards engaging with innovative means of using and delivering materials in UK products and services, together with the necessary business models. Findings will assist evidence-based decision-making and policy in respect of developing strategies within policy, industry, communities and third sectors for achieving low carbon transitions with improved materials use. Ultimately, the project could contribute to improved quality of life and economic vibrancy of the UK through the increased uptake of sustainable lower carbon intensity products, technologies and the innovative business models needed to foster their uptake. The research will provide direct benefit to policy and industry users by providing recommendations for action on materials and products delivery and use, and how this can be enabled through bringing knowledge of social barriers and opportunities to bear on decision-making. The research will also create important new linkages between the social sciences, engineering and natural sciences, adding to the UK's interdisciplinary knowledge economy in energy demand reduction.

Given the twin policy priorities of a low carbon transition and sustainable economic development, and the role that end use energy demand reduction through different products and services will have to play in both of these, it is anticipated that there will be a large number of key beneficiaries throughout the UK. These include, government and policy representatives (e.g. DECC, DEFRA, BIS, Welsh and Scottish Governments, and individual Parliamentarians), government agencies (e.g. Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, SEPA), third sector organisations (e.g. Energy Saving Trust, Carbon Trust, WRAP, Building Research Establishment, Scottish Natural Heritage), as well as a wide range of representatives within materials intensive as well as product services industries. In addition European organisations such as EU DG Energy and Research, the European Environment Agency, and EERA will also be able to draw knowledge and have access to project partners and findings. Academics across a number of disciplines (e.g. psychology, sociology, geography, technology studies, engineering, and architecture) will also wish to engage with the research.

We also expect the research to be of interest to wider general public groups, assisting in their own thinking about transitioning their everyday energy use. Accordingly material for the project detailing all aspects of the research (aims, methods, forms of analysis, working papers, results, policy/industry briefings and final report) will be available from the existing Cardiff University School of Psychology 'Understanding Risk' website (www.understanding-risk.org). Key outputs, including papers and briefings, will also be made publicly available in accessible form from the Green Alliance and UK INDEMAND websites. We will attend the British Science Festival in 2017, organising a day-long exhibition of findings and an evening debate.


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Description The first phase of data collection has produced a rich qualitiative data set. In summer 2017 we held a major disemmination meeting hosted by Green alliance for hige level policy makers in government, business and the NGO sector. Approx 30 attendees for a full day in London. Other impact activities are ongoing.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Creative Economy,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description Briefing for Welsh Senedd Climate Change andd Evironment Committee
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Gave expert evidence to, and joined Expert Reference group for, Wales Senedd Environment and Climate Change Committee to further their work in scrutinising Welsh Government climate change policy.
Description Evidence given to BEIS roundtable with Nick Hurd (Minister)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Pidgeon attended a roundtable review meeting for Nick Hurd (BEIS Minister responsible for UK climate policy) in February 2017 to brief him on ourt RCUK work on climate change public engagement and energy system change.
Description Innovate UK Working group on Public Engagement with Energy System Change
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Pidgeon and Demski are members of a group m,eeting 2016-2017 convened by Innovate UK (C3T) and involving BEIS, Defra and Scottish Government to explore proposals for engaging the public with the energy system transition.
Description Member of DEFRA Social Sciences sub-group for its Science Advisory Council
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Since 2016 Pidgeon is member of the DEFRA Social Sciences sub-group for DEFRA Science Advisory Council. Various advice given on sustainability, climate change and energy policy.
Description On 11th May 2017 Cardiff University with the Green Alliance hosted a stakeholder engagement event exploring public perceptions of the circular economy in London that was attended by 30 high level guests, including researchers, policy makers, government officials, and heads of industry.
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health