An Taisce Green Home: A tool to guide behaviour change through our ‘Perfect Storm’?

16th May 2014
News Item

**By Dorothy Stewart, Green Home

At 7.3billion in 2014, the worlds’ population increased fourfold in the last century. In the same time our use of freshwater increased nine-fold, our climate emissions rose seventeen-fold and our overfishing of the seas grew by a multiple of 35. We can live well as 10 billion people on this earth, but not if we do so while using the resources of 30 or 40 billion. In 2012 the former UK Scientific Advisor Sir John Beddington warned of a ‘Perfect Storm’ citing climate change, a growing global population and damaging production and consumption patterns as the key factors driving change. Buenstor and Cordes (2008) state that contemporary economies pose severe and potentially disastrous challenges to the natural environment. In the 250 years since the Industrial Revolution, mankind has emitted half a trillion tonnes of carbon by burning fossil fuels, a process that has caused atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to rise by 40 per cent. We are on track to release another half trillion tonnes in the next few decades, and this would result in a major jump in global temperatures (Sweeny, 2013).

The 21st century is characterised by the need for more resource consciousness, dematerialisation and in the words of Heinberg (2011) a ‘New Normal’ where growth is defined as the need to grow less quantitatively and more qualitatively. As a small open export-led economy Ireland in 2014 is faced with a number of socio-economic, environmental and cultural challenges. A ‘Not-To-Be-Missed’ opportunity now exists for initiatives that harness the capacity of social capital more extensively to facilitate Ireland’s transition to a more sustainable future.

The An Taisce Green Home programme, an action based environmental education programme represents a fundamental element in delivering this vision. The programme promotes and facilitates positive sustainable action within the home and the wider community. Through awareness raising and the provision of advice, practical tips and activity based challenges on the themes of waste, energy, water and transport the An Taisce Green Home Programme empowers individuals to take action in their own homes. By carrying out these actions, participants can reduce daily waste production, use energy and water more prudently and learn about sustainable transport options. The Green Home programme is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the National Waste Prevention Programme.

The EPA emphasises a number of deadlines which Ireland has to meet in the coming decade, to include: inter alia, EU National Emissions Ceiling Directive, the Water Framework Directive and the Landfill Directive (EPA, 2006). Ireland’s 2012 State of the Environment Report stresses that likely future developments across all sectors of the economy in Ireland will place pressure on environmental quality over the next two decades (EPA, 2012). Allied to this are Irelands commitments under the Energy Efficiency Directive entered into force on 4 December 2012. This Directive establishes a common framework of measures for the promotion of energy efficiency within the Union in order to ensure the achievement of the Union’s 2020 20 % headline target on energy efficiency and to pave the way for further energy efficiency improvements beyond that date. Most of the Energy Efficiency Directive provisions will have to be implemented by the Member States by 5 June 2014.

Waste generation and resource use in Ireland remain at unsustainably high levels. A European Environment Agency (EEA) analysis of nine EU Member States found that the majority of key environmental pressures caused by total national consumption can be allocated to eating and drinking, housing and infrastructure, and mobility (EEA, 2010). These contributed approximately two-thirds of the consumption-related material use, greenhouse gas emissions and other air polluting emissions.

The rationale for the development of the Green Home Programme is directly linked to the success of the An Taisce Green Schools initiative in Ireland. Green-Schools/Eco Schools was developed in 1994 by the Foundation for Environmental Education on the basis of the need for involving young people in finding solutions to environmental and sustainable development challenges at the local level, as identified at the UN Conference on Environment and Development of 1992. Green Schools, an international environmental education programme, environmental management system and award scheme promotes and acknowledges long-term, whole school action for the environment. Over 90% (3,200 schools) of all schools in Ireland are currently participating in the Green-Schools programme.

There are two interrelated strands to the Green Home Programme: the Revision Strand and the Outreach Strand. Green Home, schools revise previous Green-Schools themes that the school has been awarded a flag for, to include waste, energy, water and for some schools, transport. The Revision Strand is particularly useful for newer pupils to the school who will hear afresh the core messages of the Green-Schools programme. Revision of previous work completed on the different themes also helps to reinforce the Green Home message and introduces the participants old and new to up to date knowledge and information on the individual themes.

The Outreach Strand of the programme actively encourages pupils’ families to review energy and water usage in the home alongside their waste generation and their current modes of transport. This is done through surveys (hardcopy/online) that provide the household with baseline data scores on the themes of waste, energy, water and transport. The participants take part in simple homework challenges/activities, to include: ‘Slim Your Bin’ waste reduction challenge; ‘Energy Vampire’ energy reduction challenge; ‘Water Wise’ water conservation challenge and ‘Travel Green from Home to School’ sustainable travel challenge. Householders are encouraged, to avail of the Green Home website www.greenhome.ie as a source of information on how to participate in the programme and as a resource to provide up to date information on environmental issues. The website also contains a series of Action Plans on the four themes of Waste, Energy, Water and Transport that once adopted deliver immediate benefits for the householder. This represents a strength of the programme as a means to initiate behavioural change as participants immediately discover ways to save money on their household bills and have the added ‘feel good factor’ of knowing that their actions have a positive impact on the environment.

To date, 108 primary schools with approximately 30,000 associated households throughout Ireland have participated on the Green Home programme. There are 7,200 thousand online members and this includes 200 Tidy Towns groups. The Green Home programme team are currently working with schools, community groups and businesses in several counties throughout Ireland. The Green Home programme was designated as a 'Preferred Action' in 2012 under the ‘Sustainable Waste and Resource Management’ element of the National Tidy Towns competition. The programme was also awarded a diploma from the European Commission in 2012 for the ‘Green Home Harvest Project’ under the European Week for Waste Reduction. A Green Home school was awarded the accolade of Green-School/College award in the 2013 National Green Awards. By its nature and design, the Green Home programme is broad in its scope and appeal and this is evident in the diversity of the programme participants from schools, community groups, businesses, banks and 2013 Rose of Tralee contestants. Finding ways to save money by making small changes in behaviour is an attractive prospect and most especially during recent times of economic austerity.

Behaviour change is at the heart of the Green Home programme. There is growing research and debate about models of behavioural change with considerable attention now focused on understanding theories and models of behaviour change within groups, organisations and whole communities in transition toward a more sustainable society. Participation and involvement in groups and social networks can have positive outcomes for both the individual and the community in general. The positive outcomes that accrue from this interaction are generally termed social capital (Osés-Erasoy & Viladrich-Grau, 2007). A strong civil society is dependent on the existence of an abundance of social capital. This in turn forms a corner stone of a modern liberal democracy (Fukuyama, 1999). Social capital is not something that can be taken for granted but instead must be constructed through deliberate actions that foster social bonds that can be tapped into as a source of other benefits (Portes, 1998). The Green Home programme presents an excellent opportunity to foster, develop and renew such social bonds contributing to the social capital that is essential in a functioning democracy (Fukuyama, 1999; Putnam, 2000). Social capital in tandem with human, physical and natural capital represents the types of interdependent capital that drive social and economic progress.

Social capital is advanced through the process of self efficacy. Self efficacy is seen by Bandura (1986) as perhaps the single most important factor in promoting changes in behaviour. The Green Home Programme is designed to build upon participant’s confidence in their ability to take action and persist in action. Self-efficacy can be increased in a number of ways, among them by providing clear instructions, providing the opportunity for skill development or training and modelling the designed behaviour. To be effective, models must evoke trust, admiration, and respect from the observer; models must not, however, appear to represent a level of behaviour that the observer is unable to visualise. All Green Home activities are achievable and this increases the chance of success in implementation. Green Home participants are rewarded for the activities that they participate in on the programme. This measure is deemed as being extremely important to maintain the behavioural change in the medium to long–term horizon.

The Green Home programme is an effective and innovative tool to increase social engagement as a means to bring about a change in attitude. Allied to this is the insight that the programme delivers on behaviour change within the context of the value/action, attitude/behaviour gap. Social engagement also enables a greater understanding of the concept of sustainable development and how this relates to everyday living in Ireland in a resource conscious 21st Century.

Based on Green Home research findings, an estimated potential saving of around €320 per annum is possible for households that fully engage with the Green Home programme. Research has found that one third of the food we buy gets thrown away with a potential cost of up to €1,000 per household. This figure when added to potential Green Home savings represents potential savings for Green Home participants of up to €1,320.

Notwithstanding the success that has accrued in the area of behaviour change for sustainable development there continues to be a ‘Value-Action/Attitude-Behaviour’ gap. Trinity College Dublin Consensus Research Project on sustainable consumptions patterns found that although 73 per cent of Irish respondents stated that they would be willing to install insulation in their homes for environmental reasons, only 23 per cent of respondents had actually done so in the past five years (Lavelle et al. 2012, cited in NESC, 2012).

During the latter half of the 20th century, evidence emerged to suggest that human behaviour is often irrational. To address this, economics integrated insights from psychology with economic theory, resulting in a new sub-discipline called ‘behavioural economics’, which implies why decisions may not be rational. Simon (1955 cited in European Commission 2012) introduced the notion of ‘bounded rationality’, which proposes that rational decision-making is often limited by the availability of time, or in some cases, too much choice which leads to procrastination (Swartz, 2004). This ‘paradox’ of choice can be heightened by the complexity of green behaviour, for example, it is difficult for consumers to decide whether non-organically locally-produced food is more sustainable than organic food that has been transported long distances (Soderholm, 2010 cited in European Commission 2012).

King et al., (2009) advocate that people need to know the relative benefits of specific actions and to be convinced of the benefits to themselves and to the environment. Cox et al., (2012: 6 cited in NESC (2012) conclude that ‘a combination of educational activities, changes in organisational policies and investments in infrastructure can foster new organisational values’. It added that ‘addressing individual, social and material factors jointly in a coherent and holistic programme is essential to foster lasting change’.

Green behaviour is the shared responsibility of individual citizens, public authorities and industry (Sonigo et al 2012 cited in European Commission 2012). NESC (2012) cites projects, such as the Green Schools Initiative and others underway in local authorities and in companies as a powerful means of illustrating to people how they might change their behaviour (and reduce emissions and, in many instances, save money). Facilitating behaviour change that sees economy, environment and society in harmony is a core principle of the Green Home programme.

As the programme has grown and evolved new media have become ‘cost effective’ tools to disseminate the Green Home message and to extend the main message of the programme to a wider audience. Facebook, Twitter and Flickr have been used to reach potential new members, to engage with new members and existing members in discussions and debates, and also to keep people informed about Green Home related news and events. New media have undoubtedly expanded the programme’s network of members by creating virtual connections, while also supporting and supplementing the day to day activities of the programme. Heinberg (2011) discusses visibility of initiatives that facilitate the transition to more sustainable living. New media enhances visibility, enables two way communications and provides feedback mechanisms from the wider community that are fundamental to future development of the Green Home programme.

Much debate surrounds new media with empirical evidence supporting both the sceptical and optimistic theories on the social effects of new media (Levinson, 2004). Although there are pros (Norris, 2002) and cons (Putnam, 1995, 2000) associated with new media, it is contended that new media represents a potential factor in facilitating social change and participatory democracy. As suggested by Levinson, new media provides a new conduit for social interaction that can “transform existing traditions, habits and practices of information and communication” (Levinson, 2004: 2).

In conclusion and in the words of An Taisce’s esteemed President Professor John Sweeny in 2013, ‘Our current depressed economic state presents a chance to rebuild in a more sustainable way. We are a small, nimble country that can react quickly, take advantage of opportunities and position ourselves to make sure we’re not a big loser because of climate change. We have the talent and the potential to become leaders in a new, low-carbon industrial revolution’.

The An Taisce Green Home programme represents one tool to guide behaviour change towards more sustainable development by harnessing the capacity of social capital in mitigating socio-economic and environmental challenges and facilitating Ireland’s transition to a more sustainable future and local resilience. Current and future success of the Green Home Programme is entirely dependent upon people working together in partnership and on people’s willingness to give their time and energy to help to make a difference in their community.

Green Home as an action based initiative is an effective and innovative tool to increase social engagement as a means to bring about a change in attitudes. Social engagement also enables a greater understanding of the concept of sustainable development and how this relates to everyday living in Ireland in a resource conscious 21st Century. The application of the An Taisce Green Home programme is independent of economic circumstances and at the heart of the programme are the words of Benjamin Franklin (1750), “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I will learn”.

References:

  • Bandura, A, (1986) Social Foundation of Thought and Action. Prentice-Hall,Englewood Cliffs.
  • Buenstorf, G., and Cordes, C. (2008) Can sustainable consumption be learned? A model of cultural evolution. Ecological Economics, 67: 646-657.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2012) Ireland's Provisional Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2010. Wexford.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (2006) Environment in Focus. Wexford.
  • European Commission (2012): Science For Environment Policy, Future Brief: Green Behaviour: Issue 4. Brussels,
  • European Environment Agency (2009) Signals 2009: Environmental Issues Facing Europe, Denmark
  • Heinberg, R. (2011) The End of Growth: Adapting to our new Economic Reality. New Society Publishers, British Columbia.
  • Levinson (2004) New Media and Social Capital - Internet use and Social Capital in six European Countries. Available at: http://busieco.samnet.sdu.dk/politics/nyheder_og_begivenheder/khl.pdf [Last Accessed: 16/02/2012]
  • NESC (2012) Social and behavioural aspects of Climate Change, Dublin
  • Norris and Pippa (2002) Democratic Phoenix. Reinventing Political Activism. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Osés-Erasoy and Viladrich-Grau (2007) All that is not given is lost: social capital in the commons. Available at: http://www.grema.udl.cat/projects/2giving070927.pdf [Accessed: 15/02/2012]
  • Putnam, R. (1995) “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” Journal of Democracy 6(1): 65-78.
  • Swartz, B. (2004) The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Harper Perennial, N.Y.C, U.S
  • Sweeney, J (2013) on Independent.ie We ignore Global Warming at our peril: and a huge cost to the economy http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/professor-john-sweeney-we-ignore-global-warming-at-our-peril-and-at-huge-cost-to-economy-29617144.html