All a load of greenwash?

If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.

I’m not sure this government is really committed to improving the country’s green credentials.

There. I’ve said it. Oh sure, individuals within government are probably convinced of the need to improve our use of energy – and by improve, of course, I mean reduce. And there’s probably a list somewhere in Whitehall that has ‘get the country to use less nasty fossil-fuel-derived energy’  on it. Probably  above ‘ensure social care is adequately funded for the ageing population’ but below ‘make sure we can get elected again next time’.

For this government – as for so many others that came before it – energy efficiency and the greener economy is a ‘nice-to-have’, not a ‘must-have-for-the-sake-of-the-planet’. Why else would they so wilfully disregard all the sectors who could properly advise and help them to come up with strategies to ensure the general population is committed to reducing its impact on the planet.

This is, of course, my rather long-winded way of getting around to the fact that the Green Homes Grant has been unceremoniously dumped, cast aside like a disposable face-mask on a pavement, sacrificed on the altar of continuing the furlough scheme and the get-Rishi-the-top-job-but-not-just-now secret campaign.

The UK has climate change targets to meet by 2050 and to try and achieve them, the government has lofty ambitions about  zero carbon and doing away with petrol-powered cars and gas cookers. There’s no way any of this is going to work if it hasn’t grabbed the hearts and minds of the owners and occupiers of the UK’s 19 million homes which are insufficiently insulated, or which use inefficient boilers chucking heat out through leaky, though often picturesque draughty sash windows. Of course, it’s not just the chocolate-box Georgian cottages and Victorian townhouses that are the problem, there are plenty of modern houses that just don’t stand up to energy-efficiency scrutiny, no matter which version of the Building regs they were built to.

I digress. The Green Homes Grant was just as ill-thought out as its ancestor, the Green Deal. Nice on paper, but unwieldy, over-complicated, too bureaucratic and, ironically, a rally inefficient way of improving, er, efficiency.

In the last year we have seen homeowners indulge in a frenzy of garden renovations, at a rate not seen since Titchmarsh, Dimmock and Walsh were at their televisual peak. Why? Because they’ve been spending more time at home, more time in the garden (thanks to the weather Gods, smiling so sweetly on the stuck-at-homers of 2020) and they have had little else to spend their furlough fivers on. Plus, and this is key, doing so makes them feel good. They have something to show off to the neighbours, now we are allowed back in each other’s gardens. When was the last time you heard someone proudly telling their neighbour that they’ve had the loft insulated so they will be using less energy to heat their home? I’m guessing, never.

And you won’t, because it just isn’t something that we have learned to value above the sexier, more visible items.

Changing that mindset will take time. Sir David Attenborough is doing his best and the zeitgeist is moving back towards the issue of climate change after a year where the focusses shifted. In the meantime, and until that happens, getting people to want to do something about the efficiency of their homes has to be made ether mandatory or easy. Probably both. Who is the best person to talk to a homeowner about the energy efficiency or otherwise of their heating appliances? Their trusted local plumber. Who is the best person to talk to them about the best way of reducing the amount of energy that those appliances need to use in order to keep them warm in their homes? Their trusted local builder. Who are the people that those trusted local tradesmen trust to help them with products and advice? The trusted local builders and plumbers’ merchants. Who are the people who can ensure that the products are the best, most efficient they can be? The manufacturers and suppliers who understand their markets.

If government really wants to get schemes like the Green Homes Grant working properly so that they make a real difference, they need to talk properly to the people and organisations who best understand the market. They need to talk to them and they need to listen to them. Otherwise, those climate change targets are going to remain targets.


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But not if the Government hits its zero carbon targets

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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