Lachlan Hill

How to reduce carbon emissions = 100 coal power stations with the world’s biggest nudge

In the latest instalment from my LSE activism students, Lachlan Hill took my course to help formulate the strategy for his Go25degrees campaign in Indonesia. This asks Air Con manufacturers – not governments – to take responsibility for their indirect emissions and make one simple change to their factory settings.

One simple nudge to prevent the construction of >100 power stations, improve gender equality, and keep voters and corporates happy!

Later this year, Go25degrees will commence work on the world’s biggest nudge.

In Indonesia alone, its implementation could see electricity demand drop by the equivalent of 6 coal-fired power stations by 2025, improve the productivity of female employees by 5-10% and reduce power prices for its 275 million residents.

Unlike organ donation or tax collection, this nudge doesn’t require governments, so we have a decent chance of succeeding!

Photo Credit: Reuters David Gray

What is it?

Currently, the factory default settings of most AC Units are 18-23°C. Our mission is to change the default air-conditioning temperature to 25°C for 1 billion people living in the tropics. It may seem trivial if the numbers weren’t so scary:

  • The IEA estimates AC will soon produce 2bn tonnes of CO2 a year – about the same amount as India, the world’s third-largest emitter, produces today.
  • The unrestricted use of toxic refrigerants used in AC could cause 0.4°C of additional warming by the end of the century. This doesn’t include some of the emissions from the 1035 coal-fired power stations planned or under construction.
Source: IEA – The Future of Cooling
  • The number of AC units is predicted to triple to 5.6b by 2050, with most of the growth in the rapidly developing tropics.
  • AC is a vicious cycle, as the globe warms, the demand for AC increases which in turn heats the globe more.

Why will it work?

  • Changing defaults changes behaviour: In the world of nudging and behavioural change, changing defaults comes out on top as the most effective intervention by far. Acknowledging this, India became the 1st country to introduce minimum factory defaults of 24°C.
  • The manufacturing market is relatively concentrated: ~16 companies represent 80% of all AC units manufactured. Most of these companies are acutely aware of their impact on the environment and have showed a willingness in the past to reduce their harm.
  • Increasing your AC temp saves big dollars: In India, the ministry estimates corporates and consumers can save 6% off their power bill for every 1 degree increase. Use the Go25degrees calculator to see how much you can save.
  • Women are more productive at higher temperatures: The most recent study found women perform best at ~29°C compared to men at ~20°C. Another study found employees no less productive at 25°C than the industry consensus of 22°C.
  • Governments to spend less: Power plants and distribution lines are expensive. For example, preventing the construction of 6 coal-fired power plants in Indonesia saves ~USD$3b and ~10m tonnes of state-subsidized coal.
  • Power bills are a political Achilles heel: As with other everyday products like metro prices in Chile or petrol prices in Indonesia, a key source of political survival rests in a governments ability to manage power prices. The demand shock caused by higher AC defaults would lead to lower electricity prices, in turn, keeping voters happy.

Why won’t it work?

  • AC as a status symbol: In Asia especially, having AC and setting it to 18°C is viewed as a sign of wealth.
  • Men in management positions: A lot of the people responsible for setting AC temperatures are men who prefer lower temperatures, regardless of the benefits.
  • Governments beholden to fossil-fuel lobby groups: In the recent Indonesian election, both candidates pledged to increase coal production. This is perhaps no surprise as the eventual winner, Joko Widodo, received 86% of his donations from fossil-fuel related companies. Conceivably, a government could force manufacturers to default to a low AC temperature, but we think that’s unlikely.
  • Lack of understanding: People think that if you want to cool a room quickly, you should set the temperature as low as possible. This could mean regardless of the default temperature, people will always “opt-out” of 25°C for something cooler. This is of course more difficult to do in corporate settings.

Would you support this? Let us know what you think!

I checked the go25 website, and Lachlan’s already got a million sign ups – pretty impressive! He is also the first student to submit his assignment on a powerpoint – here

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3 Responses to “How to reduce carbon emissions = 100 coal power stations with the world’s biggest nudge”
  1. Ruth Mayne

    Great idea and power point. A couple of thoughts. You mention cultural issues as a possible constraint i.e. air conditioning as a status symbol. I guess you may know about the ‘Cool Biz’ campaign introduced in Japan in 2005 which succeeded in getting lots of offices to turn up their air conditioning to 28 degrees during the summer. They achieved this by getting high profile government ministers, including the Prime Minister, to ditch their suits and ties and publicly model wearing casual and therefore cooler clothes to work. In other words the campaign got people to change their behaviours by changing clothing customs (rather than more common route of raising individuals’ awareness or changing rules)? Not suggesting you copy this particular strategy but it might be an interesting complementary strand of influencing to explore. Your power analysis indicates that influencing government to introduce stricter energy efficiency standards for energy appliances would be harder that directly influencing companies, but as government policy can be so transformative, I am curious to know whether further down the line you think it might be worth packaging up the evidence from this initiative to influence the government to become a regional leader on the issue?

  2. I like this idea a lot… both meaningful change and reducing the need to carry sweaters and shawls into meetings. And I was also going to mention the value of an associated campaign on office clothing. In Bangladesh some years ago, all civil servants were requested to wear short sleeves and no jacket in the summer. Not sure how long it had an impact for, but at the time it was notable how much less fierce the air conditioning was.

  3. ken smith

    To carry on the clothing/cultural theme I’ve noticed that here in the UK, male visitors to our office from outside the UK still would wear suits and ties in contrast to our more casual style. It will be interesting to see what prolonged zooming does to typical office dress around the world.

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