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Last Updated: Friday, 2 June 2006, 09:21 GMT 10:21 UK
The real cost of going green
By Emil Petrie
BBC Money Programme

Is it really possible to cut your carbon emissions enough to save the planet?

Petrol dripping out of a pump nozzle
Cutting carbon emissions means using less fossil fuel

As part of the BBC's Climate Chaos week, The Money Programme conducted a unique experiment.

It asked the Hutchinson family from Teesdale - the area in the UK with the highest carbon emissions per household - to try and cut back their energy use.

But it was a tough task. The Hutchinsons use a lot of energy.

Dad Dave runs a garage and likes to drive rally cars for fun.

Mum, Teresa, is a school nurse who drives everywhere. She also has a fondness for big hot baths.

Fifteen-year-old Andy likes computers, gadgets and like his dad, is also a bit of a petrol-head. He has his own off-road motorbike.

And 13-year-old Helen whiles away her time playing music. On her electric piano!

'Heavy polluters'

Before the experiment began, the Hutchinsons saw themselves as just a normal family.

Dave said: "I would have said that as far as we're concerned, we're average users, but I'm probably going to find out different within the week."

TV screen and remote control
TVs should be switched off instead of being left on standby

Well, they found out almost straight away.

Dr Brenda Boardman, a home energy scientist from Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute, came to audit the Hutchinson's energy use. The results surprised them.

According to Dr Boardman, an average family of four have a carbon footprint of about 13.5 tonnes a year. The Hutchinsons were almost double that.

"I'm afraid the bad news is that in terms of carbon dioxide, they're rather heavy polluters," she said.

They drive on average 55 miles a day, use more than five litres of heating oil and consume a whopping 24 kWh of electricity a day.

Looking at the short-term, it seems too expensive to be green

So she set them tough new energy targets for the week. She asked them to drive no more than 30 miles, use only 10 kWh of electricity and burn just 3.5 litres of heating oil each day.

According to Dr Boardman, although it was a tough target, it's important for everyone to do their bit.

"Climate change is being caused by the actions of each one of us," she said. "We are causing the problem, and so therefore we are the solution to the problem."

Wasted power

A major problem for Dr Boardman was the number of appliances left on standby. In Andy's room alone, she found 12 items left on standby - a figure that shocked her.

"[In] the normal house, I'd expect there to be 26. So for there to be 12 in one room is quite a lot. The really important point with standby is that if it's on 24-seven, times 25 million households, you've got a couple of power stations, all wasted."

Candles
Using candles to replace electric light can sharply cut energy use

The visit from Brenda really had a big impact on the family and the challenge she set made them realise a lot about how they had been leading their lives.

As Teresa said: "It knocked me sideways when Brenda came, 'cos I thought we were pretty good. I really did and it totally knocked me for six.

"And when you think that, as she put it, we're investing in our kids' futures, then they're my life, so it's got to be passionate, something you've got to do for them."

The Hutchinsons responded to Brenda's challenge with great enthusiasm. During the week of the experiment, everything was turned off standby overnight.

They turned the heating down, they watched less TV and even resorted to candlelight during two nights of the week.

Energy savings

Seven days after her first visit, Dr Boardman returned and was amazed by what she found. The Hutchinsons had transformed their lifestyles.

They had almost hit the electricity target of 10kWh, averaging 10.73 kWh a day over the week.

Living in the countryside meant they failed the mileage, driving 53 miles a day over the week, only slightly below their normal 55 miles a day.

Demolition of US nuclear power plant cooling tower in Oregon, May 2006
If we saved more energy, we could say goodbye to nuclear power

However, they actually managed to beat their heating oil target. They used on average 3.4 litres a day, compared to their target of 3.5 litres. Their carbon footprint went from a colossal 26 tonnes of CO2 a year, to just 14.4 tonnes CO2 a year.

Brenda was impressed. They had cut down their energy use to such an extent that if everyone in Britain did the same, it could alter our future energy policy.

According to Dr Boardman, it has huge implications: "Well, for a start, we would need no more nuclear power stations. It is that level of reduction that we're talking about."

For the Hutchinsons, the week-long experiment had a major effect on the way they viewed the world.

Dave says it completely changed his outlook: "Life is a learning circle and I feel we've learnt quite a lot this week with regards to how we can help the world."

The Money Programme: The Real Cost of Going Green, BBC Two at 7pm on Friday 2 June.




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