kimberley crofts

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an information and communication designer living in London

A dematerialized society is a clean society

I was watching a video podcast from Pop Tech tonight from Alex Steffen from the environmental site WorldChanging.com. In the talk he outlined the positive impacts that dematerializing our society could have on the environment. For example, a particular pet peeve of mine is the ownership of small appliances like lawnmowers. Why is it that every household has to own a lawnmower? Couldn’t we just share and save on carbon emissions?

Imagine, if you will, a street on which there are 44 houses. Each house has a small lawn and therefore a small electric mower that costs on average £50. Similarly, each of these 44 houses has a vacuum cleaner of an average cost of £100. Taking into consideration the embodied energy in each appliance throughout the entire lifecycle, the total carbon emissions from both vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers on this average UK street is almost 12 tonnes (click on the link to view a PDF with the vague sources of this data).

If we shared one vacuum cleaner and one lawnmower between four households (based on the amount of people I know in my street), then the average street could save about 9 tonnes of carbon which is the equivalent of taking 2.5 small cars off the road. Multiply that by the some 22 million households in the UK and you have a staggering amount of carbon that could be stopped from going into the atmosphere.

My figures are incredibly inaccurate, but it is just to demonstrate that a small change of behaviour could yield a very large return in favour of the environment. All we have to do is to alter the way that we view the ownership of stuff. If we remove the cultural and social caché that is currently attached to the ownership of certain goods, then we can work out new systems to accommodate their partial deletion from our lives. As James Howard Kunstler has recently said at TED, we need to stop referring to ourselves as consumers because consumers have no responsibility toward their fellow human beings.

Only consumers “need” to own ridiculous amounts of stuff and consumers are like SO 20th century.

Filed under: behaviour, environment, ,

Behaviour change through “fun theory”

A competition from Volkswagen is asking people to think of ways to induce behaviour change through fun, they call it Fun Theory. You may have already seen the video of how music made taking the stairs more fun than riding the escalator:

Or perhaps you have seen this one, the world’s deepest bin which encouraged people to place their rubbish in the bin:

The results of the competition will of course be used by Volkswagen in some kind of marketing, but if the competition encourages “behaviour change for the better” then perhaps it’s worth signing away your creative rights. The competition ends on November 15. Anyone can enter it seems, although the site is based in Sweden.

I read some behaviour change theory for my dissertation. Many researchers believe that first you must change attitude and then behaviour change is more likely to follow. I hope that these fun projects go a little of the way to altering some people’s attitudes to waste and to energy use.

Filed under: behaviour, , , , , ,

travelling, walking, moving about

With some reluctance I have recently endured an Easyjet flight. I wanted to take the train but on my student budget I was unable to afford the extra £400 to travel in a slightly more sustainable manner. Fortunately in December I will be able to redeem my climate sins as I will be taking the slow way to Berlin by train, stopping in at Paris and Cologne on the way. I have of course recently confessed my environmental sins to Futerra at their confessional booth at the wonderful Greengaged event.

Contemplating the state of cheap flights and their effect on the planet was easy to do whilst sitting in the airport lounge watching the thousands of weekend tourists getting anxious. I had to wonder, do they really think that this is worth it? Do they really appreciate what they are experiencing or is it just another chance to tick off a box? For example I overheard a woman on the plane talking about her trip to the Netherlands and she couldn’t even remember the name of town that she visited!

So what is the future of travel? A recent partnership between the excellent Forum for the Future and some big names in travel has produced a report called Tourism 2023. The report proposes that a low carbon future will demand a different sort of traveller: one who takes the slow road, travelling for a longer period every couple of years rather than each weekend. Anna Simpson (who neatly summarises the report here) sees that this type of travel is both more rewarding for the traveller and for the place to which they travel, citing examples of the ‘one-day tourists who rip through the city [Venice] without so much as a gondola ride or a plate of zucchini’.

But didn’t we all used to do ‘slow travel’? I for one planned my first trip overseas in 1996 for at least four years and after that month away I couldn’t afford to travel for at least another three years. My longest trip abroad was a year in South America, but many people just cannot afford to take this length of time off work now. Employers are rarely willing to allow an employee to take even a four week block of holidays, and so the culture of mini-breaks is encouraged. Perhaps it’s time to start putting pressure on the employers to revise their policies regarding holiday time.

Filed under: behaviour, travel, , , ,

Keep Britain Tidy

I was recently taking a walk to town via the Thames Valley University when I saw a teenage girl drop a half-finished pack of chips on the ground in front of a bin. More disturbing than the fact that she was eating deep-fried chips at 10am was that she seemed to be littering to impress her friend. Now I know that littering is probably fairly low on the list of priorities for the modern-day school, what with the current ASBO culture here in Britain, but if we can’t rely on teenagers to respect their immediate environment, what hope do we have of teaching them to respect the global environment?

I called the University and had a pleasant conversation with the officer in charge of security and student behaviour. He said that it was difficult to control the behaviour of a student body which comes from “all walks of life” and that there were insufficient security staff to police the problem. Why their students, no matter what their background, cannot be taught to be tidy is beyond me. To add to this, it is regrettable that they need to use security to deal with this behavioural problem.

It might instead be more prudent to use more collaborative exercise to affect behaviour change. For example, the Big Tidy Up is a campaign organised by the Keep Britain Tidy folks. Similar to the Clean Up Australia Day programme, the Big Tidy Up encourages people to respect their environment and take a more active part in making their community a better place to live. Perhaps I will suggest to the school that they conduct something similar with their students.

Filed under: behaviour, environment, Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Thom Yorke plays the Age of Stupid launch

Thom York performing ‘Reckoner’ as part of the Age of Stupid film launch. The film calls for a global wake up to how our wasteful behaviour is increasing the risk of catastrophic climate change:

Filed under: activism, behaviour, environment, film, music, , , ,

Greengaged

If you are in London or surrounds and interested in issues of sustainability, check out these two events staged as part of the 2009 London Design Festival. You need to register to attend these events put on by Greengaged.

greengaged

Design for life: barriers to behaviour change (curated by Ed Gillespie)
September 21, 2009. 8.30am to 10pm (includes a Swishing clothes swapping event after 7pm)
Why is change happening so slowly? What are the barriers to change, both behaviourally and in the context of design? Where can great design interventions really make a difference? This will be a day of challenges, questions and opportunities around the role of design in what we wear, what we eat, where we live and how we get around

Co-oportunity: a day for world builders (curated by John Grant)
September 22. 9am-6pm

Co-opportunity is about how co-operative, community systems have the potential to build a more sustainable, resilient, prosperous society at all levels – working for the common good. In John’s engaging approach to workshops you will learn about co-operative systems by actually creating solution – starting with the world’s financial banking system – as an example of the power of systems redesign.

Filed under: behaviour, environment, events, , ,

The Age of Stupid

Go see this film. Everyone is talking about it, even Thom Yorke. The basic premise of the film is that we are a stupid species who seem to be hell bent on destroying ourselves and the planet that was unlucky enough to be lumped with us. I fear that it might be one of those films that only the converted go to see. So please—if you are going—take a climate change sceptic with you. You are bound to find one somewhere (hint: they are the ones driving the SUV).

Filed under: behaviour, environment, film, , ,

Message framing and risk

‘Creating Fear in a Risky World: Generating Effective Health Risk Messages’ by Michael T. Stephenson & Kim Witte. In Rice, DE, & Aktin, CK (Eds.), Public communication campaigns (3 ed.). (pp. 22-48). London: Sage.

Risk is defined as the likelihood of a specific event occurring multiplied by the magnitude of consequences associated with that event (Douglas, 1985)… Rothman, Klein, and Weinstein found that study participants overestimated their vulnerability to hazards that have lower probabilities of occurring, such as dying from chronic liver disease, dying from colon canceer, or dying by committing suicide. In contrast, participants underestimated their risk to hazards that occur more frequently, including contracting a sexually transmitted disease, becoming pregnant, or getting a divorce. p89

Gain-framed messages emphasize the advantages or benefits of certain behaviors or the likelihood that one would gain by adopting them. In contrast, loss-framed messages highlight the disadvantages or costs of certain behaviors or the odds that individuals will lose or not be successful in taking certain actions. Framing is generally based on the invariance postulate of Kahneman and Tversky’s (1979; Tversky & Kahneman, 1981) prospect theory, which suggests that people are risk averse when presented choices involving gains and risk seeking when presented choices involving losses, even though the gain and loss options are different representations of the same choice (Rothman & Salovey, 1997, p. 7). P92

Filed under: behaviour, , , , , ,

Persuasive impacts

TIMING

Apparently persuasive impact is greatest immediately after a message is received. The impact receeds in impact thereafter. This of course varies depending on the message and the credibility of the source (page 34 Input/Output).

MEDIA p 36

  • Because people switch channels when ads come on TV, public service announcements could be more effective if incorporated into the program (It’s not easy being green).(McGuire 1984 Piotrow 1990)
  • People are more persuaded by messages when alone (Keating & Latane 1976)

RESISTANCE

Campaigns can also try to influence people to resist the persuasions of things like cigarette advertisements. McGuire says that there are six things that can help influence this resistance:

  1. Having the person publicly express their position (he quotes Lwein’s 1951 world war II group decision research here);
  2. Affecting emotional states such as anger, self-esteem or anxiety (fear based messages or positive ones);
  3. “Anchoring the person’s initial stand on the issue to another person’s beliefs or values”, especially someone they respect;
  4. Educate people in critical thinking (but can backfire as people who are more educated can also be more persuadable, see Sente notes);
  5. Show people examples of other people resisting (“unyeilding models)
  6. Expose people to weaker innoculation messages so that when exposed to stronger messages they will already have in-built defenses.

Filed under: behaviour, , ,

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