by Al Sacco

Spy Planes, Thermal Imaging and Environmental Sustainability: Could You be Shamed Into Going Green?

Sep 13, 20073 mins

Today I came across a story that detailed how a London borough used a plane loaded with military-grade spying technology to take thermal images of residents’ homes to expose the folks who were wasting the most heat.

The idea was to embarrass the residents of Haringey Council into cranking down their heat, or at least to improve their homes’ insulation, by posting the information to the Web in the form of color-coded maps, according to And the borough’s apparently not the first to try such an experiment: Aberdeen, Scotland also placed house-by-house thermal images of its homes on the Web, the article said.

image of a spy plane

The thermal imaging took place on a cold winter evening when residents presumably had their central heat pumping, and the spy plane passed over the borough 17 times to capture footage of nearly every home in the area, according to the article. The footage of Haringey Council residences was then made into stills that were superimposed over a map of the area, and the houses were eventually color-coded to depict their heat loss. Bright red was used to represent the homes that leaked the most heat and various shades of orange, yellow and blue marked the lesser offenders.

One such map can be found on

Going green, or increasing your home or business’s environmental sustainability, is all fine and good, but I can’t help but wonder if scare-tactics are the wrong approach to motivate folks into taking action. Would you rush out for new insulation or an improved heating system just because your home was singled out? I wouldn’t.

Or maybe this is the right approach. If people won’t address their own personal environmental sustainability, others can step in and make them, right?

Officials from Haringey Council downplayed accusations that the experiment was a “Big-Brothers-style invasion of privacy” but it still rubs me the wrong way. They claim the maps will be used to identify the homes that are most in need of better insulation so that grants can be offered, as well find vacant properties that could be employed to address a housing shortage in the area. But if that’s all they want to do with the information, why publish the maps to the Web at all?

Imagine if the city or town where your organization is located decided to expose the businesses that leaked the most energy and then sent the information to the local newspaper. Your company’s name could become a headline–and not the kind of headline you want. But is this the way to go? Is it really time for governments to step in and “motivate” people and businesses to go green by shaming them into action?