The Death of the Green Deal

In 2013 the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) launched its flagship home energy improvement scheme: the ‘Green Deal’. The deal’s proposition was: ‘The Green Deal helps you make energy-saving improvements to your home and find the best way to pay for them.’

The scheme failed. The government shut the door on it late last year. It had loaned £50 million to 14,000 homes against against a plan to loan £1.1billion.

Last week the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published its report on the failure of the scheme. In the report the PAC stated that the Green Deal ‘had not been adequately tested with consumers’. The committee suggested that the ‘marketing focused on the financial benefits of installing energy efficiency measures, rather than emphasising the comfort of having a well-insulated, energy efficient home’.

The scheme failed to generate any connection with deeper ideas of home. The early closure means every loan made has cost the taxpayer £17,000.

The PAC report put the failure of the Green Deal failure down to the absence of ‘consumer testing’. The use of the word testing suggests DECC could have fixed the scheme by putting it in front of people before launch.

What is a home?

The body is our first habitation, the building our second – Anthony Gormley

How do you think about your home? When a client wanted to understand people’s relationship with their homes we did the obvious thing. We explored a cross-section of homes and the people who lived in them. Homes are a good example of what anthropologists refer to as ‘worlds’. Homes are as much about meaning and emotion as they are about their physical elements. Home, as the expression goes, really is where the heart is.

The principle elements that define home against a house (an empty space to live in) are the feelings of safety, comfort and personalisation people connect to them. Homes are places where people can be themselves. They are the spaces where relationships develop and family life unfolds. Home can be a familiar smell or sensation as much as a post-code. The world of home includes practicalities. There are repairs to attend to and bills to pay. But these elements invariably emerge as secondary to the emotional associations that sit at the heart of ideas of home.

For many businesses and brands staying connected to deeper more emotive ideas of home is vital to their success. Many of the leading brands across media, energy provision, furnishing and more know the value of understanding the nuance of our home worlds. They sell their products and services within the context of home as a feeling. Ikea sells its furnishings wrapped up in the idea of your home as a space for ‘the wonderful everyday’.

Sky sells its services against a backdrop of home as a space for moments of togetherness. But they also understand the need for household members to be alone together. Other brands tap into the intimacy afforded by home or the sense of safety it offers in complex times.

So what could DECC have done to make the Green Deal stick? Rather than develop and then test the proposition they might have engaged in a deeper exploration of the idea of home at the start. Better to build a foundation of insight and inspiration through ethnography as the launchpad.

Homes have meanings for their inhabitants that are difficult to grasp from Whitehall Place. Spending some time closing the gap between DECC and what matters to people in the their home worlds might have helped stop the Green Deal falling apart.