Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Cornwall Switch

Sounds like a dance, doesn't it? In fact, I think I could write a song:

I've got a new dance, it's called the Cornwall Switch...

Ok, now that's just silly, but the Cornwall Switch itself is actually quite cool and innovative. Thanks to organizer Tom Scott for passing along this news, and congratulations on creating such an interesting information campaign...

Cornwall Switch launches at Eden Project
Innovative word-of-mouth campaign aims to persuade people in Cornwall to switch to ‘green’ electricity while raising money for charity.

On Thursday 12 May an ambitious new campaign launches at the Eden Project near St Austell in Cornwall. Cornwall Switch brings together a wide range of local organisations, from environmental campaigning groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace to local churches and business forums. Its aim is simple: to encourage households and small businesses in Cornwall to switch to electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind, sun and water, as part of the battle against catastrophic climate change. The not-for-profit campaign will also raise money for charitable causes.

The idea for the Cornwall Switch campaign began to take shape when Falmouth-based Friends of the Earth member Tom Scott was caught on the edge of the storm that devastated Boscastle in August last year. As he explains:

“I was driving back into Cornwall with my family on the A30 when the storm hit. It was the heaviest rain I’ve ever experienced, so bad that we couldn’t see more than a couple of feet ahead and had to pull off the road. When we got home we turned on the TV and saw the pictures of what had happened in Boscastle that afternoon. It was just the kind of disaster that climate scientists have been warning will become much more frequent as the world’s atmosphere heats up.”

At the time, Tom was reading a book on how ideas spread – The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The book’s message is that the most powerful factor in influencing people’s consumption choices is not what they see in the media, but what they hear from friends and acquaintances they trust. It also looks at the factors that can prevent people from taking action even in emergency situations.

“Malcolm Gladwell describes a phenomenon observed by psychologists known as the ‘bystander problem’”, Tom says. “Experiments have shown that the more witnesses there are to an emergency, the less likely it is that individuals will take action to do something about it. Everyone assumes that someone else will intervene or that because nobody else is doing anything it can’t be a real problem. It’s one reason why crime victims are sometimes ignored by passers-by on busy city streets, and it seems to be exactly what’s happening with climate change.

“Global warming is such a massive crisis that many people feel they can’t do anything about it personally, or that somebody else will sort it out. But unless we start taking individual responsibility, it’s going to get much worse. The Cornwall Switch campaign is all about encouraging individuals to take one very simple step towards reducing their own impact on the world’s climate, and in turn to tell their friends and acquaintances just how easy it is to do this. Since Cornwall is an area where people still tend to be pretty closely involved with their neighbours and communities, we think that the word-of-mouth approach should be a particularly effective means of spreading the message. That’s why we’re inviting as many different local organisations as possible to ask their members to get involved. The response so far has been fantastic.”

A large proportion of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change are produced by power plants that burn fossil fuels, yet few people realise how easy and cheap it now is to buy domestic electricity generated from renewable sources that don’t create these gases. Drawing on guidance from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, Cornwall Switch has drawn up a list of four renewable electricity suppliers that are making a real contribution to developing ‘green’ energy in the UK, and asking people in Cornwall to switch to one of the tariffs that they offer.

“It’s a win-win situation,” says campaign co-organiser Ben Simpson of Cornwall Greenpeace. “Many people would be paying no more for their electricity if they switched to a green tariff, and some would actually be paying less. It only takes a few minutes to switch and it doesn’t involve any rewiring in your home. And it’s a good feeling to know that the money you’re forking out each month is contributing to the solution rather than adding to the problem.”

Ben, a Camborne School of Mines environmental engineering graduate who also has a master’s in environmental social science, says that renewable energy has huge potential to benefit Cornwall’s economy. “We’ve got some great companies researching and developing renewable energy technologies right here in Cornwall,” he says. “And we’ve also got plenty of wind, sun and waves – three key green energy resources. At the moment, 98% of what people spend on their electricity goes straight out of the county. Developing these resources will help make sure that a lot more of this stays to boost the local economy.”

To help make it as easy as possible for people to switch to a green electricity tariff, Cornwall Switch has entered into a partnership with the national price-comparison and switching service Energylinx. People who’d like to switch to one of the recommended renewable tariffs can get the latest price information on these and switch online via the Cornwall Switch website at, or can do this by phone by calling Energylinx’s dedicated Cornwall Switch line on freephone 0800 1088 333. Energylinx will help take care of all the necessary paper work, making a simple process even easier for customers. The price comparison and switching service is offered completely free of charge.

For each customer who switches, Energylinx will donate £10 to Cornwall Switch. After covering its campaign expenses, Cornwall Switch will be passing any surplus income on to three good causes:

Oxfam and WaterAid, both of which are committed to working with poor communities worldwide to achieve sustainable improvements in health and quality of life. Many people in such communities are already suffering from droughts, floods and famines caused by climate change. Oxfam and WaterAid recently joined with other development charities to call for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, warning that unchecked climate change “threatens to reverse human progress”.

The Cornwall Green Communities Fund, which Cornwall Switch has set up in conjunction with the Cornwall Community Foundation and the Cornwall Sustainable Energy Partnership. The fund aims to help small-scale renewable energy projects that will benefit local communities, such as solar panels for village halls and small wind turbines to generate power and raise income for local facilities.

Cornwall Switch will also be holding a series of prize draws which everyone who switches to a green tariff will be invited to enter. Four winners will have their electricity bills paid for a whole year, up to a maximum of £260 (the average bill for households in the South West).

Chris Hines, Sustainability Director at the Eden Project says: "Eden is pleased to host the launch of this important campaign. Climate change is a major threat to biodiversity and we welcome initiatives that involve individuals in action and help increase understanding and knowledge of the issues."

Contact: Tom Scott 01326 212960
Ben Simpson 07974 937643

Cornwall Switch website:

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