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What was the impact of the Insulate Britain campaign?

Insulate Britain carried out a series of nonviolent disruptive actions on UK motorways between September and November 2021. Social Change Lab undertook an impact analysis of the campaign to assess the extent to which Insulate Britain achieved their aims and changed UK Government policy. We assessed quantitative evidence including media coverage, parliamentary mentions, Google searches, and opinion polls, and qualitative evidence from interviews with MPs, NGOs, academics, industry representatives and activists. You can read the full research report here.

We are holding a webinar at 4-5pm BST on Thursday 16 May to share the findings of our impact analysis and discuss lessons for other campaigners and advocates. Sign up here.

Main findings

  • The campaign was hugely successful in terms of visibility. Within three weeks of their existence, 90% of the UK public had heard of Insulate Britain

  • Media mentions of ‘home insulation’ went from close to zero before the campaign to hundreds of daily mentions while the campaign was active. 

  • Mentions of home insulation in both Houses of Parliament also significantly increased during and after the campaign compared to before them.

  • The campaign had a positive effect on other organisations working on home insulation. First, it pushed them to do more: “The protests were an important provocation that we needed to be doing more, acting faster, that it wasn’t ok to do business as usual,” as one analyst put it. Second, by raising its visibility, they bolstered home insulation as a solution. As one NGO interviewee said, “In the past we couldn’t get anyone interested in this issue… Insulate Britain changed that.” 

  • We considered the effect of this increased salience with respect to policy with reference to the Great British Insulation Scheme, a £1billion policy, announced a year after the Insulate Britain campaign. We modelled the cost-effectiveness of Insulate Britain in different scenarios based on their contribution to this policy and its timing. We would suggest an estimate based on 10% of policy attribution to Insulate Britain and 1 year of emission savings (in other words, a 10% chance that Insulate Britain sped up this policy package by 1 year) is realistic. 

  • This gives a cost-effectiveness of the campaign of 0.51 tonnes CO2/£, putting it on a par with the most highly rated climate charities.

Fig. 1. Outline model of pathways to social change.

We analysed the campaign based on the model of social change outlined above. We looked at Insulate Britain’s influence on public opinion, public discourse, and others working on the issue of home insulation and on government policy. Our ultimate outcome measure of interest was reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The primary contributor to that outcome we considered was the government announcement of the Great British Insulation scheme, a £1 billion adaptation to the existing Energy Company Obligation scheme specifically focused on home insulation which was announced in November 2022.

Public opinion showed very high awareness of the campaign very quickly (90% of adults surveyed knew of Insulate Britain within just 3 weeks). Opinion was generally negative about the tactics of the protesters (YouGov polls found that an initial 59% of the public opposed the protests early on increased to 72% as the protests continued). By contrast, public opinion on the message of the protests — namely that more needs to be done to improve domestic insulation — was consistently favourable. This support was high before the Insulate Britain campaign (a 2020 survey found that 77% of UK adults supported subsidies to help people insulate their homes) and remained very high after it. This suggests that although people did not like the methods of the protesters, this did not affect their views on insulation.

In terms of public discourse, the high visibility of the campaign had a substantial impact. As one of the MPs interviewed said, “[Insulate Britain’s] very public actions in blocking motorways in 2021 was successful in raising the issue“. The figure below charts mentions of ‘home insulation’ in UK newspapers against the days when the actions were happening. Media mentions exceeded 1,000 daily mentions at their peak. The campaign generated memorable and much-discussed media moments, some of which “went viral” (e.g., the TalkTV host Mike Graham claiming it was possible to ‘“grow concrete and activist Liam Norton leaving mid-interview on ITV’s flagship morning show Good Morning Britain).

Fig. 2. Number of mentions of ‘home insulation’ in the UK media in the period of the Insulate Britain campaign (13 Sept to 4 Nov 2021) plus one month before and after. Protest days are marked with vertical black lines.

The campaign also had important effects on other NGOs and policy organisations who were working on home insulation, inspiring them to act more - and faster. Several interviewees commented that before Insulate Britain, it was hard to get traction on home insulation, not because people did not support it, but because it was seen as “boring”, and “could never get anyone excited”. But once Insulate Britain had so dramatically raised the salience of insulation, making it “a water cooler topic”, that changed. New campaigns were started and older ones were given renewed vigour because insulation had been pushed to the top of the agenda.  

We were interested in trying to identify how these effects had knock-on effects on government policy. Trying to determine the contribution of any single factor to policy is fraught; most policy is influenced by a combination of dynamic factors. As a first step, we looked at whether there was a change in the number of times the terms “home insulation” and “retrofit” were used before, during and after the campaign in both Houses. This is a proxy indicator of politicians’ interest in taking action on insulation. As shown in figure 3 below, there was a significant increase in the number of times politicians referred to these topics during and after the campaign compared to before.

Fig. 3. The number of mentions of the terms “home insulation” and “retrofit” in both Houses of Parliament, in the periods before, during and following the Insulate Britain campaign.

We then asked interviewees for their views on the role played by the insulate Britain campaign. Predictably, stakeholders varied greatly in how much they attributed positive outcomes on home insulation to Insulate Britain activists. The reasons were sometimes political; for instance, one interviewee quoted a Conservative MP saying, “The Chancellor can’t exactly stand up there and say ‘We’ve caved in to Insulate Britain’.” Another interviewee, from an industry body who have campaigned on home retrofits for years, rather saw that it was their ‘sensible route’ through advocacy and building trust that had brought change, attributing success to their own work.

Mostly, interviewees found it difficult to tease apart the influence of several important factors, including in this case the cost of living crisis and the onset of the war in Ukraine and its effect on fuel prices. Given all the measurable effects of Insulate Britain, particularly the extent to which they made insulation a salient topic in public and political discourse, it would be unrealistic to suggest they made no contribution to the policy. Equally, the policy was not entirely attributable to their actions. As one MP interviewed summed it up, “It is not a huge surprise that the government would work on that agenda, but it is possible that the Insulate Britain campaign helped speed it up.

To estimate the cost-effectiveness in terms of Insulate Britain’s contribution to the Great British Insulation Scheme, we need to look at the cost of the campaign, the annual carbon savings of the scheme, the percentage contribution of Insulate Britain and the number of years of carbon savings should apply. For carbon emission abatement, we used the figures outlined in the government’s GBI impact assessment. These suggest the £1bn scheme would bring CO2 savings of 130,000 tonnes per year over 5 years. According to data from the Climate Emergency Fund, which funded Insulate Britain, the cost of the campaign was £128k. This means that if Insulate Britain were entirely responsible for the policy on home insulation, this would be the equivalent of 650k/128k) 5.08 tonnes of CO2 emissions abated per £1 spent. Clearly, Insulate Britain was not 100% responsible, but to what extent could the policy and its timing reasonably be attributed to their actions? The table below models different estimates.

Fig. 4. Cost-effectiveness analysis estimates for the Insulate Britain campaign based on varying estimates of % attribution and timing (insulation policy being brought forward sooner). All estimates are in tonnes of CO2 per £1. The colours refer to our estimates of how likely the various scenarios are: green ‘very likely’, yellow ‘somewhat likely’, orange ‘somewhat unlikely’ and red ‘very unlikely’.

By this analysis, we estimate the likely cost-effectiveness of Insulate Britain lies in the range of 0.25 to 2.54 tonnes of CO2 emissions saved per £ spent. We suggest a realistic estimate that assumes 10% policy attribution to Insulate Britain and 1 year of emission savings (in other words, a 10% chance that Insulate Britain sped up this policy package by 1 year). This gives a cost-effectiveness of the campaign of 0.51 tonnes CO2/£, putting it on a par with the most highly rated climate charities.

In summary, our analysis finds strong evidence that Insulate Britain raised the salience of home insulation in the media, amongst the general public and among politicians. How did this translate to an effect on government policy? One could argue that, given the legally binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions, the government would have, sooner or later, earmarked public money to improve home insulation. However, that could have been argued at any point since 2008 when the net zero targets were set. The fact is, for 15 years it had not happened. Then in 2022, less than a year after the Insulate Britain campaign, a year in which the topic of home insulation had been discussed and seen by millions in news reports and social media posts, the government announced a scheme specifically focused on — and named for — home insulation, The Great British Insulation Scheme. 

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this research further, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.


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