The power of community in a crisis

clock • 4 min read

OVO's Kate Weinberg reflects on a hugely eventful year since the energy giant debuted its ground-breaking Plan Zero strategy

Almost one year ago today, OVO launched Plan Zero, a direct response to the climate crisis. We set out how we would transform our business so that every day, every decision we make will secure an outcome that means less carbon.

I would never have imagined that six months later we would be fighting another crisis - the Coronavirus. Despite the challenges this has presented to our business, I'm really proud of the great progress we've made. We've succeeded in decoupling our environmental footprint from our business growth between 2018 to 2019. We've reduced our emissions from our operations and our vehicle fleet by 18 per cent per employee and 35 per cent per £m of revenue. And we've reduced our emissions per customer by 19 per cent.

Keeping positive in dark times

Global leaders, businesses and governments have responded to the pandemic in different ways. But what is most inspiring to me, is how local communities have sprung into action, with neighbours looking out for each other more than ever before.  Despite the pandemic requiring people to isolate and stay away from others; the value of connectedness, a sense of belonging and trust have never been so important. People have really come together to look after each other.

I hope we will bring this same sense of community-led action, where individuals think of others before themselves, to the climate crisis.  There are some indications that this is the case - over the past few years we have seen conscious consumers forming communities to challenge, debate and celebrate when change happens. The world is waking up to the fact it's now or never.

The power of collective action

While we have known about the impacts of climate change for decades, mass action to tackle it has been painfully and dangerously slow in coming.   However, recent events have proved that change is possible - it has shown that we can come together and make changes in record time that have a massive impact.    

This is about creating a mindset shift. Our customers are not just consumers, they are citizens. We believe that people want to get involved, to be part of the solution to the crisis we face - we just need to offer them a platform for change - a community where we can demonstrate the power of collective action.

One of the central philosophies of Plan Zero is that individuals have the ability to take action and have real impact. We believe in the power of small changes over time because together, those small changes make a difference. This creates a ripple effect - individuals making changes set an example for others, who then also start to take action and that behaviour becomes the norm. If everyone does their bit, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Creating a zero carbon community

At OVO, we want to inspire the same sense of community among our members, where citizens with shared values can come together and learn from each other, where they can find a source of hope and connection to fight climate change. That's why one of our Plan Zero aims is to mobilize a zero carbon community; we've committed to help our customers halve their carbon footprint by 2030.

Plan Zero is about leading the way to zero carbon living by creating a community in which all members receive information and coaching, feel inspired by the actions of others, and are given achievable actions to cut carbon.  Home energy makes up 26% of an individual's carbon footprint, so we're starting there.  

One of our first steps was to make it easier for customers to understand their carbon footprint, and track their carbon emissions using the OVO Carbon Tracker, which provides personalised information and insights to inspire action.

We've also been able to offer our customers a fully zero-carbon heating solution through the Zero Carbon Heating Trial. The trial demonstrates how innovative technologies can provide better, low carbon ways of heating homes and show how we can overcome barriers to heat pump deployment, such as running costs, across a range of housing types. The trial is an important step to decarbonising heat and tackling the climate crisis and if successful, it could be rolled out on a much larger scale to more homes across the country.

And we want to make it as easy as possible for our members to get to net zero, so from October, our OVO Energy members will receive 100 per cent renewable electricity at no extra cost.

Working together to fix our planet

While we don't have all the answers yet, we do know that communities are a powerful force in a crisis. Looking beyond OVO, I have hope that energy will be one of the sectors that most strongly supports a green recovery in the post-pandemic era. I hope that we will be able to enable our members to have a positive impact on the world - to make it better than it was before.

Kate Weinberg is Director of Sustainability at OVO.

This article is part of OVO's partnership with the world's first Net Zero Festival.

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