Since day one, we have been on a mission to be a truly sustainable business, and so whenever we have looked for office spaces over the years, we have always looked to ensure that a renewable energy supply is part of the package.
However, we realised a few years ago that using a renewable energy tariff in the London office was not a complete solution. We have always had a flexible, semi-remote working culture at Wholegrain, meaning that every team member spends at least part of their time, and in many cases the majority, working from home. We therefore needed to make sure that the electricity used by our team members while working from home was also renewable.
The challenge of renewable energy at home
Three years ago, we decided to explore the idea of the team using renewable energy at home to see what was possible.
We did our first staff survey of home energy tariffs and found that only three people at that time had a home renewable energy tariff. What’s more, two of those people were Vineeta and I, who live in the same house.
I was surprised by the low uptake of renewable energy and discussed it with the team. What we found was that there were four main reasons why people did not have renewable energy at home.
- Lack of awareness that it was an option
- Fear that it would cost more than a conventional energy tariff
- Fear that changing energy supplier would be difficult and time-consuming
- Uncertainty as to how to change energy supplier, especially if they weren’t the person that normally managed the bills at home
Incentivising green energy
It quickly became clear that we could solve the awareness issue quite easily by providing our team with information about renewable energy options. In doing so, we could also help dispel the myth that renewable energy had to cost more.
The other challenges however, would need more than just some encouragement if they were to be overcome. We didn’t have all the answers but we decided that we needed to provide some sort of tangible incentive to help our team make it easier and more appealing to switch.
The solution that we came up with was to offer a choice of either money or time, to help alleviate the fears of increased costs and the hassle of switching. Each team member could have £200 or an extra day of annual leave, not just for switching, but for every year that they remained on a renewable energy tariff at home.
I thought that the offer made switching a no brainer, but to my surprise uptake was initially very slow. Some people had real reasons why switching would be very difficult or even impossible, such as living in shared housing or having a tenancy agreement where the landlord controlled the energy supply. For others, it just didn’t seem to be a priority.
We stuck with it, reminding people from time to time in check-ins and also discussing it in the interview process for any new recruits. Gradually, we got a few takers and it became clear that the extra day of holiday was far more popular, so we simplified the offering and removed the £200 option after about a year.
Eventually it got a life of its own. The big turning point came when somebody in the team shared their referral code for Bulb Energy (a fellow B Corp), offering both people £50 pounds credit if the other signed up with Bulb. Quickly, it became a part of our team culture that Bulb codes were regularly shared and the number of team members using renewable energy steadily increased.
As I watched the domino’s falling, I wondered what magic power was held inside these Bulb coupons. At first, I was a little bit baffled that a one off incentive of £50 was seemingly more powerful than an extra day of leave every year, or the previously offered £200 per year. Mathematically, it didn’t add up.
Having thought about this a lot and talked to various team members, I think I have figured it out. The incentives that we had offered were appealing and did make people want to switch, especially the offer of an extra day of holiday. However, it was often not quite enough to get them over the line. The Bulb coupons did a few things that helped convert intention into action.
The first thing that the Bulb coupons did was encourage people to talk about their experience of switching. When people see that their peers have done it, they naturally feel more inclined to do it themselves. Seeing friends and colleagues switch provider made it seem like more of a normal thing to do and helped eliminate some of the fears around the difficulty of switching. It’s very much a case of “if you can, I can”. The more people that switched, the more powerful this effect became.
Incentivising the right people
While our own incentives encourage the individual to switch, the Bulb coupons also offer a reward to people who can get others to switch. This energised those who are already the most motivated about the idea (as they already switched) and catalysed them into action to try to get others to switch. I haven’t seen any hard selling within the team, but I am in no doubt that it has helped crank up the enthusiasm factor.
Ultimately, I think it highlights the power of personal recommendation, encouragement and advice in motivating others to make a change.
There is something to be said for the immediacy of benefits. It doesn’t take long to switch energy suppliers, but it can be perceived as a big job before you do it. Therefore, the incentive of extra holiday tends to motivate people who want to book a holiday in the near future, but for others who haven’t planned their holidays yet, it can easily be put off as something “I’ll get around to another weekend”.
The Bulb £50 credit feels like an immediate reward, as it gets applied to your energy account straight away, and as such I think helps make people feel like taking action sooner.
And then there is one more factor
Our team uses the employee pledging platform Do Nation, and have been very competitive over the past couple of years, always chasing that top spot on the leader board of companies trying to make positive lifestyle changes.
Switching energy providers is one of the pledges on Do Nation that many people feel is very achievable and has a big impact. It’s hard to know how much this has contributed compared to other factors, but it’s certainly another good nudge in the right direction.
Three years later, we finally did it!
We haven’t changed much about our renewable energy incentive since we introduced it, but we have continued to promote it and keep a log of who has made the switch.
After 3 years, I am very excited to announce that we finally achieved the goal of 100% of employees using renewable energy at home!
As you will have guessed, the majority of the team are now buying their energy from Bulb, but we also have a few people using Ecotricity and Octopus Energy. I know that changing suppliers was a real challenge for some, and I’m extremely proud of everyone in the team for this amazing shared achievement. If we were not confined to our own homes due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we would be celebrating together, but for now we must settle for this rather lame party popper emoji. 🎉
That said, the switch to 100% home working due to Coronavirus makes this initiative even more important than ever, and temporarily makes our London office energy less relevant, so in some ways this is the perfect time to have reached this milestone.
It just shows what can be done if we provide the right support, encouragement and incentives, as employers, as colleagues and as friends. There is a rapidly growing variety of domestic renewable energy tariifs to choose from, and coupon codes are seemingly in abundant supply! It has never been easier.
I can’t help but wonder if we are the first company to achieve this or if others have done it before. Either way, it is worth imagining what would happen if every company in the UK (and globally) pursued the same goal. It would radically change energy markets and accelerate the transition to a cleaner future.
Now we just need to figure out what to do about gas!