A Greener Future, for our Senior Citizens

Encouraging energy efficiency is a key objective of the European Commission, as part of its bid to establish long-term energy and climate goals. With an ageing population across Europe, however, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that older people, in particular, are educated about saving energy – and reducing their fuel bills.

This is the aim of ‘See Green’  (SEnior Engagement in a GREEN economy) – an initiative funded by the European Commission’s lifelong learning programme in which Staffordshire University is collaborating with five partner organisations across Europe.

Using a lifelong learning approach, researchers from the University’s Centre for Applied Business Research (CABR), supported by colleagues from Film Studies and Engineering, are devising a number of techniques and strategies designed to help senior citizens save energy, reduce carbon emissions and even improve their health.

Impressive environmental credentials

Renewable Energies Transfer System

Through the Renewable Energies Transfer System (RETS) project, for example, the University has helped improve the knowledge and expertise of policymakers in the deployment of renewable energy systems. Through the Renewable Energies Supply Chain Opportunities (RESCO) project, it is assisting businesses in the West Midlands to enter the renewable energies markets. While through the Accelerating Renewable Bioenergy using Organic Refuse (ARBOR) project – a €7.3 million EU-funded initiative – Staffordshire University is rapidly becoming a centre of excellence for biomass fuels.

Encouraging energy efficiency

“Energy efficiency can happen in two main ways,” comments CABR member and Business School Enterprise Reader, Jon Fairburn. “First, there are changes in technology, such as moving from electric fires to ground-source heat pumps, which draw energy from underground heat.

“The second way involves behavioural change into how energy is used. At Staffordshire University, we are developing learning materials to support and inform these two main actions. Indeed, by drawing on the considerable expertise that exists across our schools of education, engineering and business, we have been able to establish a number of approaches to encourage learning.”

Understanding the older person’s perspective

“Our first task,” he continues, “was to establish a needs analysis. After all, it was vital that we began to understand exactly what older people understood by energy efficiency, what they wanted to achieve, and what – if any – were the issues that would prevent them from adopting a greener lifestyle.”

Researching existing literature

The University’s work involved researching existing energy saving literature. It was a task that raised some intriguing questions: Why do senior citizens, in general, find it colder than the general population? Do we know why women feel the cold more than men? And why do residential homes have problems saving energy?

(The answers, incidentally, are as follows: senior citizens often have slower metabolisms and are less active, so produce less heat; women, in general, have lower blood pressure than men, so less heat reaches their hands and feet; as residential homes usually charge a fixed amount for accommodation, there is no financial reward for saving energy – and no restraint on those who waste energy.)

Straightforward questionnaire

The next stage of the project required finding out how senior citizens would prefer to learn. This was achieved by devising a simple questionnaire and working in association with organisations such as the Beth Johnson Foundation (a charity that works to improve the quality of life of older people). The questionnaire was then distributed by letter and email, with five prizes of energy-saving TV shutdown units, supplied courtesy of E.ON, helping to encourage response.

Wide range of technologies identified

The results of the questionnaire clearly showed that senior citizens prefer to learn in groups, from booklets and leaflets, and online through quizzes and simulations. A wide range of green technologies that older people would like to know more about was also identified, as was the fact that a number had problems understanding their bills.

Simple steps to save energy

Based on the findings of the literature review and questionnaire, the University’s See Green research team is now partway through devising a range of learning materials and modules to help senior citizens and associated stakeholders understand the simple steps that can be taken to save energy. The majority of these items will be available online and will include films, quizzes, podcasts and games, as well as leaflets that can be downloaded and printed off.

Putting pensioners on film

Wherever possible, the University is also involving senior citizens and senior citizens groups, such as the University of the Third Age, Age UK and social landlords, in the production of the learning materials. For example, a number of older people from across Staffordshire – along with representatives from Aspire Housing and E.ON, and pupils from Stafford’s Oakridge Primary School – have already starred in films created for See Green by Staffordshire University’s first-year Film Technology students.

Students’ short films show energy-saving tips

More than fifty Film Technology students took advantage of the opportunity to be involved in the See Green project and, between them, completed 13 three-minute films to support senior citizens with energy saving tips, energy efficiency and guidance on renewable energy.

Subtitled for European audiences

All 13 films, including an overall winner, which was selected by residents of Kent Grove, Aspire Housing’s sheltered housing development in Newcastle-under-Lyme, were then screened at the 2013 Stoke Your Fires Film Festival. The films were then produced as a DVD, with a selection also being subtitled in Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Bulgarian and Greek. They can be viewed via the Vimeo channel.

Encouraging responsible energy usage

“We hope the See Green project will not only bring the generations together,” concludes John Fairburn, “but also will encourage senior citizens to consider their responsibilities to future generations, as they become more environmentally conscious. The training materials that we are developing will promote changes and techniques that can be adopted to help make the homes of elderly people across Europe, as well as care homes, more energy efficient.”

Making a real impact in research

Around the globe and across the UK, researchers from Staffordshire University are making a real impact. From providing sustainable solutions to the problems faced by society, to transforming lives, tackling global issues and devising flexible new ways of teaching and learning, our academics, graduates and research students are helping to make the world a much better place.