Call for national campaign to push new low-carbon brand

A new, multi-stakeholder public awareness campaign on climate change based on a powerful low-carbon brand is essential if the UK is to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to consultancies Beyond Green and Save the Planet. Their proposals - which have already caught the Environment Department's eye - call for a long-term campaign run by communications professionals, with an initial cost of some £15 million over two years.

The proposals are the brainchild of Fanny Calder, who formerly worked for Green Alliance and now runs her own consultancy, Save the Planet. The other consultancy involved, Beyond Green, is run by former Earth Centre and Greenpeace director Jonathan Smales.

The two have produced draft proposals for a major new communications programme to create a step change in public awareness of the threat of climate change and the need for a low-carbon future. Based on consultation with over 60 organisations, including companies, environmental groups and civil servants, the project was funded by the Energy Saving Trust, Carbon Trust and Pilkington Energy Efficiency Trust.

There was also input from US advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy, whose clients include Nike and Coca-Cola.

Most of the consultees, including the Carbon Trust and EST, believe that current levels of public awareness about climate change are "disastrously low", said Ms Calder. The paper warns that "most people do not know that their everyday actions are contributing to it." Recent research by NOP found that only 3% of people interviewed identified domestic energy use as a cause. This lack of awareness, says the paper, "is already a threat to the UK's ability to meet its climate targets."

Achieving deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, such as the 60% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050 called for by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, will require "significant behavioural changes", particularly with regard to domestic energy efficiency and transport.

Even where measures are in place they are sometimes ignored by the public. Energy businesses carrying out projects under the Energy Efficiency Commitment policy, for example, find it hard to persuade people to undertake energy efficiency improvements, even when they are offered free of charge.

Developing a communications programme could help "position" low carbon products, such as condensing boilers, "within the wider context of the need to tackle the threat of climate change", the consultancies argue. It could also help to reduce opposition to unpopular policies to reduce emissions, such as taxes.

Until recently there have been two main climate-related information campaigns - the Government's "Are you doing your bit?" campaign and the EST's energy efficiency campaign. Both, says the paper, "have failed to have much impact on the public's general awareness of climate change." In particular, they suffered from "a lack of continuity of messages, images and brand."

Are you doing your bit? had a budget of £9 million in 2000/01 and 2001/02 and consisted of television and print advertising, consumer incentives and a roadshow. But it was shelved in 2001 when resources were diverted to tackling the foot and mouth crisis, and DEFRA currently has no major budget for climate change communication.

Such a programme should be built around a new pro-low carbon brand. Instead of being limited to a logo, this should be strongly associated with campaign messages, a "sense of urgency and drama" and real life personal case studies.

The campaign would need to be long term to change public behaviour, says the paper, with a strong focus on children and young people. It would also need to be run by a dedicated team of communications professionals with a large degree of independence.

One of the scheme's strongest selling points would be the involvement of a wide range of stakeholder organisations from companies to environmental groups and public bodies. This would not only strengthen its trustworthiness, but also allow the message to be relayed through a range of channels such as company websites or energy bills.

Most organisations consulted on the proposals believe that it should be possible to find common ground on messages about climate change impacts and solutions - while avoiding endorsement of specific products. But the paper accepts that there will be "some sensitivities about the specifics" and it would be vital to ensure the stakeholders did not end up managing the campaign or brand development.

DEFRA officials were "very supportive and engaged", said Ms Calder, when the proposals were discussed at a workshop in December. Once the proposals have been endorsed by a range of stakeholders they will be submitted to Ministers and officials preparing the Government's energy White Paper.

But the big problem is funding. This is estimated at some £7.8 million per year, initially for two years, after which the campaign's effectiveness would be assessed.

Businesses interviewed by the project team "did not respond positively to the suggestion that they contribute funding" - despite being convinced of the need for the campaign and supportive of the proposals. Many argued that they already contributed through voluntary measures and programmes such as the Energy Efficiency Commitment. Securing funds from the Government is likely to be difficult - despite the prominent role expected to be given to energy efficiency by the White Paper.

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