BIG Green Week electric bike race. Image courtesy of Good Energy.
Beyond (Eco) Campaigning at BIG Green Week
by Juliet Davenport
Juliet Davenport, CEO of Good Energy reports back on her contribution to one of the most significant discussions held during Bristol Big Green Week, and argues that we must make the green agenda economically relevant in order to gain real traction
Bristol’s Big Green Week kicked off with a bang two weeks ago as the City was awarded European Green Capital status for 2015. And to demonstrate that this was really justified it enjoyed its first ‘car free Sunday’, as performance artists and families took over parts of the city centre, with some people taking the opportunity to chill out on sofas in the middle of the road!
Meanwhile, leaders of the green movement were engaged in serious debate on ‘Beyond (Eco) Campaigning’. It was great to be invited to join the panel, chaired by Jonathan Porritt, with John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, Fiona Ward, leader of Transition Network’s REconomy Project and Charles Secrett, former head of Friends of the Earth, to throw the issue around in front of an audience.
The conversation kicked off with a statement from each participant and then moved to the floor. Fiona Ward talked about a way forward that embraced the bottom-up economic transformation championed by the Transition movement; whereas John Sauven highlighted that there seems to be real engagement around from the Arab Spring, to the demonstrations in Turkey and Brazil, and how the green movement needs to make itself relevant to this wider audience. Everyone wanted to consider how we could embrace global digital engagement and seismic social change, whilst Charles also wanted all the green groups to be working together.
I told the Good Energy story, which provides our insight into engagement with people on a practical green level. Good Energy was born out of frustration with both European and UK government to embrace and support new renewable technologies. An independent electricity supplier with a mission to help make a difference to climate change and security of supply by enabling customers to make a renewable choice rather than waiting for Governments to make up their minds.
Right back at the beginning the research told us that 70% of energy customers wanted to go greener. We were expecting up to a million customers within the first two years of our launch. People wanted change, and we were offering a really easy way to do that, by simply switching electricity supplier. The reality was somewhat different. We discovered that if you already have a supplier who you are happy with, you are less likely to change. And this is even when you are offered to switch to a company that has great customer service. Good Energy is currently top of the Which? annual customer satisfaction survey, is price comparable with the standard pricing of the Big Six, and possibly the greenest electricity company in the UK. Whilst our customer base grew steadily, it was not on the scale that we had originally expected.
But one area that did grow, and we are now one of the leading providers in the UK, is the home generation side. Right from the beginning we specialised in supporting independent renewable electricity generation. Unlike the typical energy company reliant on large power stations, we could do things differently and help smaller renewable generators find a market for their electricity. We provided financial support and a market for microgenerators to sell their power, an initiative which became a precursor for the government’s Feed-in Tariff.
Electricity supply is part of the status quo; everyone already has a supplier and is reluctant to change. When it came to the opportunity to ‘grow your own’ electricity, mostly via solar panels on the roof, we had a totally clean sheet, a new chance to engage people with renewables in a very exciting and direct way. And people jumped at it. The scheme was fantastically successful and we are now one of the largest Feed-in Tariff administrators in the country, making the most of a completely new market place which puts people at the centre of electricity generation, literally creating the ‘mini power stations’ of the future.
I believe this is what the green movement needs to find, some clear space. We need to think outside of the box. Instead of playing in a marketplace that naturally favours the interests of the incumbents, be they big business or government, we need to bypass them and find a new way of delivering the transformation people need. New initiatives, from 38 Degrees online campaigning to the Occupy movement, show that people do have an appetite for change. Our Feed-in Tariff experience demonstrates that if you give them the right tools, people can transform how they do things, and bypass the “old ways”.
The challenge is to integrate the green agenda into people’s lives in a new way which makes it relevant economically and socially as well as environmentally. The green movement, and society as a whole, need to find some clear space away from vested interests and together we can make this happen.
Juliet Davenport, OBE, Chief Executive, Good Energy
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