The Public Information Film – A Yesterday Solution to the Modern Quest for Energy Efficient Homes?

The government’s recent commitment to the UK being carbon neutral by 2050 is a noble pledge indeed, in fact some would even argue that the target date should be sooner than that, but what exactly is the government doing to reach this target? How is it encouraging each and every one of us to do our bit? The truth is, not a great deal at the moment.

Whilst much of the focus is on manufacturing and transport, it’s worth remembering that the largest use of energy in the UK is in fact the domestic household. Therefore, would it not make more sense to focus on reducing the consumption of the average household? Surely that alone would have a huge impact on the UK achieving that 2050 target.

It’s all very well for the government to make these big announcements and set these goals, but the target can’t be reached by the occupants of Westminster alone, it needs the UK as a whole to come together and work towards the holy grail that is carbon neutrality. For that to happen though, there needs to be more information reaching more people – and that just not happening right now.

At the moment we are being told that we need to be more energy efficient in our homes, but how exactly? How do you get that information across to the average person in the street?  Sure, there is an abundance of information on the internet on how to cut costs and save energy, but you have to go looking for it. Information about grants and schemes to help improve homes is sometimes convoluted and it’s not always clear who is eligible or how to apply. Let’s face it after a long day at work and looking after the kids, how many people, honestly, can be bothered to start googling for information when they would rather just relax on the sofa and watch television? Which brings us nicely to the point that even in this age of modern technology and social media, television still has the power to reach millions of people.

Past governments have been rather savvy in their approach to communicating to the nation as a whole, be it propaganda or information. Even in times before mass media, poster campaigns during the Second World War urged us all to ‘make do and mend’ or ‘dig for victory’ in the interest of the nation. With the introduction of television came the public information films, and who doesn’t remember them? Okay, maybe only those over a certain age. For my generation it was Charlie’s Cat teaching us to be wary of matches and stranger danger, the Green Cross Code Man getting us across the road safely and of course the hooded figure of nightmares warning us about the dangers of Lonely Water. Let’s not forget the AIDS Monolith from the eighties either, that certainly scared us all but at the same time encouraged us to learn more.

The point is that since 1946 various government departments, working with the Central Office of Information (COI), have been releasing films to inform and educate the nation on all subjects from health to finances to public safety – and yet the only film relating to energy efficiency in the home was Watch Your Meters released in 1947 – that’s over seventy years ago! In fact, since then, the only time the government has used these public information films for anything energy related was in 1990 for the Electricity Privatisation campaign.

Does the government not realise that they are missing a trick here? A well-placed advert or information film, in the ad break before the next instalment of gossip from the cobbles of Weatherfield, or right before that Sunday night BBC drama that everybodyis tuning in to, could reach around ten million viewers in just those two screenings alone. Whilst that is only a drop in the ocean compared to the approximate sixty-six million strong population of the UK, imagine multiplying that number by however many soap episodes there are a week. Suddenly it’s not such a little drop anymore and it shows how these films or adverts can still be effective at reaching vast numbers of the population in one go.

Whilst some may see this as a ‘nanny state’ approach, the truth is that people are lazy. Admit it, many of us can’t be bothered to shop around for new insurance or energy supplier deals, let alone search for information on how to be more energy efficient at home. If the information was presented to us on a regular basis, then is it not more likely that people will pay attention? At the very least the drip-drip effect may come in to play. It works for car companies, supermarkets, broadband providers, banks and even energy supply companies. It worked for British Gas in the 1980s, when they had us all looking for Sid so we could ‘tell him’. So why not for energy efficiency?

Unfortunately, it was a government decision back in 2011 to close the COI and cut the marketing budget, only focussing on essential campaigns. Since then it has fallen to non-profit organisations like Smart Energy UK to educate and encourage us to install smart meters with the help of Gaz and Leccy. So why not encourage and fund more campaigns like that? If this government seriously expects to reach that 2050 target, then it must realise that it needs to educate and encourage the nation to think more about their energy consumption – and it doesn’t hurt to entertain the population a little either. So maybe it’s time the government looked backwards in its efforts to move the nation forward. Maybe it’s time to bring back the public information film. Yes, they may annoy us all, but remember, the most annoying adverts in the history of television have become the most memorable.


Watch Your Meters image courtesy of national

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