Archive | November 2012

A Very Green Dilemma…

People often tell me that they care about the environment, and that they would happily switch to renewable energy sources if they could. What these people don’t realise is that there is an option actually already out there for them:

Ecotricity claims to be Britain’s first ever green energy company. Founded in 1996 by Dale Vince, the organisation provides electricity and gas to 67, 974 customers (as of 25/11/2012) through its 53 windmills and one solar farm (Ecotricity, 2012). Ecotricity have no shareholders or investors and therefore have no financial obligations to meet after their costs have been paid. The company use this opportunity to pump all their profits into developing, enhancing and extending their green energy initatives.

First things first – is the energy they supply totally green?

No, but they do appear to be totally honest.

Let’s use the example of electricity. Ecotricity’s electricity is sourced from its own windmills but is, “topped up with ‘brown’ electricity” which is bought from the wholesale market (Ecotricity, 2012). Ecotricity say the amount of brown electricity reduces each year as they build more of their own green (This is Money, 2012). The graph below depicts how much green and brown electricity makes up Ecotricity’s electricity. Green electricity means it comes from renewable sources such as the wind, sun or sea whereas brown electricity means it comes from non-renewable sources such as coal, nuclear or gas.

As you can see, Ecotricity currently provide electricity where 64.3% of it is produced from renewable sources (Ecotricity, 2012).  This is very impressive, especially when you bear in mind that only 9.6% of the average UK electricity is made up of green electricity (DECC, 2012). You can also see from the graph that they want 70% of their electricity to be produced by renewable sources by 2013.

However, what’s really worth noting is that because of their non-profit business model, when more and more people switch to Ecotricity the company will have more money to invest in their green initiatives which will allow them to eventually provide fully green energy.

Customer Service

Ecotricity are not only the leading supplier of renewable energy in the United Kingdom, they are also highly acclaimed for their customer service. Earlier this year (2012), the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets found that Ecotricity received the least complaints out of all British energy providers. The worst offender was British Gas, followed closely by nPower then EDF.

Other Projects

Forest Green Rovers

In 2010 Ecotricity founder, Dale Vince, became the Chairman of the Gloucestershire based football club, Forest Green Rovers (BBC Sport, 2012). Vince became involved with the club at a time when they were in financial difficulty and he became the majority shareholder in order to give the club the monetary backing it needed to survive (ibid). Since then Vince has set out the aim of making Forest Green Rovers the first ever truly sustainable football club (Forest Green Rovers, 2012).

Vince and Ecotricity are steadily working towards this ambition by introducing some unique initatives at the club. For example, Forest Green Rovers now treat the pitch using cow manure; this has resulted in the club now playing on the world’s first ever organic football pitch (BBC Sport, 2012).

Ecotricity have also installed 180 solar panels at the stadium which generate 10% of the total electricity used there. Finally, Vince has placed a red meat ban on all of his Forest Green players as well as stopping any red meat products being sold at the game (ibid).

The Nemesis

The ‘Nemesis’ is an electric car designed and built by Ecotricity (pictured below). The Nemesis is powered entirely by electricity produced by the wind and can reach speeds of 151mph (which is incidentally the UK electric car land-speed record) (Ecotricity, 2012).

The car took two years to build and was designed to “smash the stereotype of electric cars”.  I don’t know about you but I think they have done a pretty good job!

So if they provide the cleanest energy, have the best customer service and run some other cool green projects why doesn’t everyone use them?

One word – cost.

In a study conducted by financial website This is Money (2012), the average Ecotricity customer on their New Energy Plus with Green Gas plan would pay £1,325 per year. This is £271 more than the cheapest option, First Utility’s iSave v2, which costs just £1,054 per year.

This presents energy customers with a dilemma…

Do they get the cheapest option and carry on using primarily nonrenewable energy sources or do they pay more and use a greener energy source?

Personally, I believe in the power of economics. If the people who understand the importance of using renewable energy sources and have the financial security to be able to afford an extra £271 a year were to switch to Ecotricity, there would be two main benefits:

Firstly, Ecotricity would have more revenue to be able to invest in their green initiatives. This would mean that they could eventually offer entirely green electricity and gas.

Secondly, if a large number of people were to switch to Ecotricity, the existing energy companies such as EDF would lose custom. In an attempt to regain these leaving customers, these companies would be forced to increase the percentage of renewable sources that makes up their energy.

I do not believe that Ecotricity should be the only company to offer a green product and have a monopoly in this industry. My hope is that Ecotricity can be used as a platform for environmentally conscious consumers to show the large energy companies how much renewable energy means to them. If the big energy companies start losing money because people prefer to buy a greener product, they will be forced to offer a greener product themselves. It is at this point that renewable energy will become much more affordable because as the amount of competition goes up the price goes down (this happens because companies who offer identical products to their rivals tend to try and attract customers by offering the lowest price). Then, if all goes to plan, green energy will become much more accessible for every single person living in Britain.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

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Sex for Less

Unless you are very religious, I bet there is one thing that you and I have in common. We both like sex.

And why wouldn’t we – sex makes our brain release endorphins which make us feel incredible.

But sex is not without risk. Sexually transmitted diseases and infections can be spread. And there is also the very real possibility of creating a little pooing, crying machine. However, there are many ways to overcome these problmes; the pill, the morning after pill and even abstinence can be used.

This blog, however, will focus on just one form of contraception; male condoms. 

Condoms are great. They are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy and because they prevent the exchange of bodily fluids they help to protect against many STIs, including HIV (NHS, 2012). Additionally, condoms are easy to use and can be purchased in a myriad of places.

But….

Even though condoms are clearly a wonderful invention there appears to be a number of barriers which stop people from purchasing them, and more worryingly, using them. In 2012, market research organisation, Mintel, discovered that 4% of men don’t use condoms because they don’t like the feel of them or the hassle of putting them on. Mintel’s research also found that 2% of males did not use condoms because of their religious beliefs. For these people it is clear that condoms aren’t for them and very little can be done to make them change their mind.

However, Mintel also discovered that a large number of people were not buying condoms due to two other reasons; price and embarrassment.

Mintel’s study showed that 45% of under 25’s (which includes students) thought condoms were overpriced. In Superdrug in Bangor at the moment a packet of 12 Durex Pleasuremax condoms costs £9.99. If you round that up to £10 then that’s 83p a condom. That is pretty costly especially if you bear in mind that the NHS give them out for free at sexual health clinics and most GP surgeries.

But most people don’t go to these places to get condoms for the other reason highlighted by Mintel – embarrassment. Mintel’s research showed that 3 out of 10 males found it embarrassing to buy condoms in a supermarket. This research supports earlier work by Dahl, Gorn and Weinberg (1998, 1999) who found that the embarrassment of purchasing condoms is one of the main obstacles to practising safe sex.

Is there a solution?

Yes, and it’s very simple – buy condoms online.

Freedoms is an online shop (and a NHS backed initiative) which specialise in selling cheap condoms and lube. On the website at the moment you can buy a bag of 72 Durex Pleasuremax condoms for £9.99 with free delivery. Just to clarify that’s the exact same price as Superdrug for 60 more condoms. If you again round that up to £10 then it works out as 14p a condom. That’s a lot more reasonable right? Alright it’s not free, but you have to bear in mind that neither is producing or shipping condoms.

As if the diminished cost isn’t a big enough motivator, shopping online removes all the embarrassment from purchasing condoms. The internet is the perfect place to purchase discreet purchases such as Viagra, sex toys, porn or condoms because there is nobody physically there judging you.

OK guys, so now you know – go and enjoy yourselves!

(Thank me later!)

Your Power is in Your Wallet

As I sit writing this blog I have my favourite study snack by my side – a KitKat Chunky. To many of you this will seem like a completely irrelevant piece of trivia, but to many others this information can be used to judge me. This is not because of the health issues related to my choice of food but down to the fact that KitKat’s are a product made by Nestle.

And to many people Nestle is a dirty word…

In the 1970’s Nestle began selling formula-milk to the developing world as an alternative to breastfeeding. The company used aggressive marketing to inform mothers in poorer countries that Nestle formula-milk was safer than the milk in their breasts  (Klein et al., 2001). This was proved not to be the case because the formula-milk had to be mixed with water, which is a major problem when the mothers in question have no access to clean water (Moorhead, 2007). Nestle were also found guilty of selling cans of formula-milk which included instructions written in the wrong language for the women who needed them (ibid). These actions caused outrage because they were putting the lives of millions of babies at risk. So in 1977, protesters began calls for a boycott of all Nestle products, a boycott which still exists today.

So, what is a boycott?

According to Freidman (1999) a consumer boycott is “an attempt by one or more parties to achieve certain objectives by urging individual consumers to refrain from making selected purchases in the marketplace” (pp.4.)

Why do people do it?

Boycotts typically take place as a reaction to a negative activity that people feel very strongly about. In 1989, a tragic accident happened at a football ground in the UK . This was the Hillsborough disaster where 96 Liverpool football supporters lost their lives because too many people were let into a football stadium and were crushed (BBC News, 2012). After this horrific event the Sun newspaper published the following front page:

The city of Liverpool was disgusted with the article and accused the paper of lying. Therefore a boycott was placed on the Sun newspaper in the Merseyside city. The ‘Don’t Buy the Sun’ campaign became an incredibly strong movement and even held a concert featuring Mick Jones of the Clash (BBC News, 2012).

It should be noted at this point that another reason people undertake boycotts is that they are very effective. In 1990, the Economist argued that consumer boycotts were popular “for one simple reason: they work” (pp.69).

The effectiveness of boycotts can be demonstrated by returning to the example of the Sun. On the 14th September, 23 years after the Hillsborough disaster, the boycott finally paid off when the newspaper published the following front page admitting that they were wrong and that they had lied:

So what does this mean?

It means that consumers have more power than they think. It means that people can influence companies more than they think they can, simply by using their purchasing behaviour. We live in a time where people know that companies are often doing wrong but do nothing to try and stop it. People’s power is in their wallets and they need to remember this, we all need to remember this. If you’re not happy with a company then don’t buy from them, it’s as simple as that. This applies to me as well – so perhaps I should rethink my favourite study snack?

Finally, if you needed any more proof that boycotts can be incredibly effective, how about this for an amazing result?

Water, Water Everywhere …

Imagine the following

You’re out shopping, you become thirsty, you have no water with you and you are nowhere near home. What do you do…?

You go and buy a bottle of water, right? And you’re not alone…

In 2010, the UK consumed 2055 million litres of bottled water (UK Soft Drinks Report, 2011). But why? Here in the UK we all have access to fresh, running, drinkable water in our homes 24 hours a day.

The average house in England and Wales spends approximately £376 a year on water. That’s just over £1 a day. What’s interesting here is that people are not willing to pay a penny more for this utility. In April this year water bills in England and Wales rose by 5.7% (BBC News, 2012), this was met with a wave (great pun) of annoyance by the general public (including my Dad, who went ape s**t).

But despite the fact that we have access to running water and that people begrudge paying for tap water they seem completely unfazed by paying £1 (or even a lot more) for a 500ml bottle of water. In fact you can actually pay 2,000 times more for a bottle of water than the water you get from your tap (Fishman, 2011).

So why do we do it?

Well one of the reasons has already been alluded to in my story at the beginning – convenience. Not everyone is organised enough to take a bottle of water with them when they leave the house. Even if you are organised there still may be the odd occasion where you simply forget to take water with you.

But this isn’t the only reason. Bottled water has become such an incredibly profitable industry (Americans actually now drink more bottled water than milk or beer (Gleick, 2010)) because the demand for it has been manufactured.

How has the demand been manufactured?

In the 1970’s, soft drinks companies became worried about their projected profits decreasing (Gleick, 2010). So they came up with a new strategy – sell bottled water. But at this time people were not buying a lot of bottled water – they saw it as unnecessary (I mean it is free from a tap after all!). So they came up with two very clever ways to make people want bottled water:

1. They scared people off tap water.

The soft drinks manufacturers used fear appeals in their advertising to stop people drinking the water from their taps (Rollings, 2012). Fear can be a very effective way of affecting consumer’s behaviour because it makes them feel insecure and scared if they don’t have the product (Snipes, LaTour and Bliss, 1999).

A great example of water companies using fear to put people off tap water is Calistoga Mountain Spring Water (a large American bottled water producer) who released a series of adverts showing a picture of a goldfish in a glass of water. Below this picture was written “There is something in this glass you do not want to drink. And it’s not the fish.” (Gleick, 2010).

The example below shows how Fiji water used a fear appeal to tell the people of Cleveland, America that their water is better than Cleveland tap water.

This actually turned out to be one of the biggest marketing mistakes in recent history. The citizens of Cleveland were so incensed by Fiji’s ‘joke’ that it was decided that a series of water analysis tests should be undertaken. Ironically, these tests actually showed that Cleveland tap water was healthier than Fiji water (Fiji water was found to have traces of arsenic in it!!).

If this isn’t enough evidence for you, in 2000 Robert S. Morrison, the vice chairman of PepsiCo, publicly declared “The biggest enemy is tap water. . . We’re not against water—it just has its place. We think it’s good for irrigation and cooking.” (Gleick, 2010).

2. They made bottled water look like a safer, cleaner, healthier option.

Notice that on each of the labels of these bottles of water there are images of greenery, mountain streams and immaculate nature. Well this is (unsurprisingly) done on purpose. It’s done to make you associate bottled water with pureness and cleanliness. But guess what… loads of bottled water is just tap water!

In fact approximately 40% of all bottled water in the U.S. is filtered tap water (Co-op America, 2001). This includes Aquafina, which is the brand of bottled water produced by PepsiCo – making Robert S. Morrison probably the biggest hypocrite to ever walk mother earth. And it’s no better in this country either. As recently as August of this year it was revealed that both Tesco’s and ASDA’s own brand bottled water was just filtered tap water (Telegraph, 2012).

But if you ignore that and do drink bottled water , look at the incredible effects it could have on you:

So what does this all mean?

It means clever marketing can make people want a product they don’t really need. We hear a lot of these stories (e.g. Listerine inventing halitosis etc.) and the message seems to be remarkably clear – if you scare people enough you can even get them to buy or not buy what you want. The question is, is this ethical? Well, that’s up to you to decide…

As always, I would be delighted to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading