Funnelling society towards net zero

Centre for Net Zero
May 4 · 3 min read

Hi, I’m Steph.

Steph Chan, Data Scientist at Centre for Net Zero

Until recently, my career focused on leveraging machine learning for several consumer-facing tech companies. I worked on a diversity of projects, from churn modelling and recommendation systems to fraud detection and forecasting.

Much of this work was designed to better model and understand human behaviour, such as predicting which of several options a user might choose on a website. This is a data-driven attempt to represent what is fundamentally motivating someone to act in the way they do — and how their future choices might evolve in new contexts.

As a result of this kind of work, data science determines so much of what we experience within spheres like e-commerce. It’s also industry standard to rapidly experiment and iterate to achieve desired behavioural outcomes en masse.

But in encouraging people to behave in a way that achieves financial objectives, as e-commerce mandates, I realised that I wasn’t putting my skills to work in a meaningful context. Which is why I jumped at the opportunity to join the Centre for Net Zero and help optimise towards mitigating against the worst of climate change, for everyone.

Taking an agile approach to data science and putting it to work in the world of energy is incredibly exciting, not least because of the industry’s historic tendency to move at slower timescales. As we know, we simply don’t have time on our side when it comes to achieving net zero.

The good news is that an increasingly eco-conscious population is already moving in the right direction when it comes to behaviours and attitudes. Today, consumers are presented with very meaningful choices about the way they use resources, from the energy tariff they select to heat their home to the mode of transport they use to get from A to B. It’s an industry that’s ripe for change.

I’m fascinated more generally by the market dynamics that exist across all major GHG-emitting industries — and the roles of government, large corporations and the individual in determining how these are shaped in the future.

I first understood the potential impact of changes to individual behaviour on the climate through a discussion about diet — where I quickly learned that different meal types can be associated with radically different GHG emissions. I’d previously believed that a change in travel behaviour was the only way to successfully do this.

Extrapolating this finding to other aspects of life, it became clear that as a consumer, there is great opportunity at almost any point-of-purchase to choose something conducive to a net zero outcome. When we do online shopping, it is commonplace for a data team to dissect a “funnel” of behaviour: to uncover friction points that block progress, to segment different user behaviours and to derive performance metrics like conversion rate.

I grew curious about the “funnel” of a society migrating to make Net Zero decisions. What friction is experienced by those migrating behaviours, such as switching from a gas boiler to a heat pump? What is the impact of factors such as choice, price and perception? What does this transition mean practically for different segments of people, and who takes accountability for our overall ‘conversion’ performance towards this end?

Building a greater understanding of these influences on human behaviour — and how we can use this to encourage positive change — is at the heart of the Centre for Net Zero’s strategy. I’ve always been motivated to achieve real-world impact, which is why I support our team’s decision to prioritise actionable insight over the production of reports that fail to influence. There’s nothing worse than research that sits collecting dust in someone’s desk drawer.

So, I’m looking forward to forming diverse partnerships, growing a community dedicated to open, reproducible research and, most importantly, galvanising people to think differently and act with urgency as we confront the greatest challenge of our time.

Centre for Net Zero

Building the world’s largest ‘living lab’ for energy research