December 1, 2008 / 11:26 AM / 10 years ago

Is Green Lane a bit of a green wash?

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A 34-year old housewife from the Northern English city of Leeds has become the unlikely star of a campaign by British Gas to reduce home energy consumption.

An energy saving light bulb is illuminated within a lamp shade in an office in London January 5, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Rebecca Neysari, who lives on the appropriately named Green Lane in Leeds, was one of a group of residents on streets with the name green in them, selected by the energy company for an energy reduction competition which was launched with a fanfare earlier this year.

“We’ve been turning lights off, installing the efficient light bulbs, put foil behind the radiators, and turned the central heating down low,” said Neysari, who lives with her husband and two young children.

“Now I wear cardigans over my t-shirt,” she said.

“I use lids on the saucepans when I am cooking vegetables so I use less gas. I use the top oven — the little oven — more, and I try to dry my washing on the clothes horse - not the tumble drier.”

As a result the Neysaris have slashed their in-home energy consumption by more than anyone else on Green Lane - 53.7 percent over the past nine months — not quite in line with the 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions which environmental campaigners say is necessary, but impressive nonetheless.

Or is it?

The Neysari family were given over 8,000 pounds ($12,340) worth of energy improvements by British Gas. The company gave a total of 30,000 pounds of improvements to the eight houses they selected on Green Lane.

“British gas gave us a new washing machine — a Hotpoint, with a bigger load so I don’t have to run it as often,” Neysari said . “Some people in the road got energy-efficient fridge freezers and tumble driers.”

But Neysari revealed the family would not have reduced their energy usage had the equipment (including solar thermal water heaters, loft insulation and a new boiler) not been given for free.

“Not even if it was 50 percent off” she said.

And she does not know what happened to the 10-year-old washing machine that British Gas removed, even though it still worked perfectly well.

“People do need things made easy for them — which does not necessarily mean given for free,” said Gearoid Lane, Managing Director of British Gas’s New Energy division, which is currently tasked with installing fuel efficiency measures in millions of its customers’ homes under an agreement between the British government and the country’s biggest energy retailers.

“But if things are difficult for people then it is hard to get them to act, and that is where our focus is — in trying to make it easy for people, by giving them quality advice and offering a single point where they sign and it is all done for them,” said Lane, who last week accompanied British Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband on a tour of Green Lane.

Neysari is happy that her own level of eco-consciousness has been raised by the experiment.

“If you use less electric or gas you are helping the environment, but you are also saving money — you can’t do one without the other,” she said.

Her husband took a more pragmatic approach.

“We have just carried on as usual,” said Faramarz Neysari, 41, a building site manager. “Except now we just turn off things we are not using.”

British Gas is unfazed by the Neysaris’ reaction to their experiment.

“We recognized right from the word go that it would not be representative of the way people would react in normal circumstances,” said Lane. “ But it does give us valuable insights into consumer behavior.”

And Lane’s chief insight is?

“In the area of energy efficiency there is a very strong alignment between the green agenda and what the consumer is interested in,” he said.

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