How a startup aims to hit the spot on energy conservation

October 23, 2017 14:07
Christina Tang, founder of Blue Sky Energy Technology, has developed a tool that offers real-time information on electricity usage, and works with companies to cut energy use. Photos: Blue Sky Energy Technology, HKEJ

The perennial problem of how to encourage consumers to change their behavior to be more energy efficient is one that has engaged the industry and government for far too long.

Instead of persuading consumers with hard figures and facts, Christina Tang Pik-han, founder of Hong Kong-based Blue Sky Energy Technology, focused on a humanized approach.

Setting up her company, which offers integrated solutions for energy conservation, in 2014, Tang developed a tool that offers real-time information on electricity usage, and works with companies to cut energy use.

She believes a good way to prompt change in people's behavior is to use storytelling to humanize the initiative and engage with citizens.

Tang recalled her experience in Africa helping a company that provides clean water to villagers. "No one listened to my presentation and explanation, as they were wary of us. At that time, I was so clumsy that I fell into the water at one event, and the whole crowd burst into laughter! But this accident helped break the ice and since then the villagers welcomed us and were willing to take our suggestions."

From villagers in Africa to investors worldwide, Tang believes that a living, powerful story of what the startup idea stands for, rather than hard figures and financial reports, is a must for any new business to strike a chord with its audience.

As Tang told the Hong Kong Economic Journal, "[You] need a story to convince the investors as to why they should support you to realize the dream, why you are the best candidate for the role."

Air pollution persists in Hong Kong despite the government's efforts to reduce it. Studies found that nearly 70 percent of carbon footprint is rooted from energy production, and as much as 90 percent of energy is consumed by commercial buildings.

To deliver cleaner air for the city, "hollow slogans can't bring about change," says Tang. Her startup installs 24-7 sensors to monitor electricity usage in buildings and delivers reports for real-time analysis, along with personalized recommendations catered to users' needs.

Tang believes that simply playing an educational environmental video, or recommending that users  switch to LEDs, is not enough to drive and foster environmental awareness among people.

"We are trying to use data analytics to improve people's habits over time and help users to work on their own plan of energy conservation," said Tang. "That's more effective than forcing people to do so."

Energy efficiency is a bit of an abstract concept. In order to humanize the data monitoring and notification, Tang introduces a cartoon character "Blue Sky" to demonstrate the assessment of users’ electricity usage habits through a smiling or crying face.

Diring the interview, Tang cited Richard Thaler, the recent Nobel laureate in economics and one of the founders of behavioral economics, in asserting that humans' actions aren't nearly as rational as economic theories assume.

"People know about environmental protection and they know it well. But the inertia of humans is so huge that they do the opposite in daily life," said Tang.

"That’s why it is important to find a better way to promote the idea and get people to change their behavior for the better."

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 23

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

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