It Works!

One of the articles in Generation NExT (IC#43)
Originally published in Winter 1995 on page 61
Copyright (c)1995, 1997 by Context Institute

Dear IC Readers,

I’ve just come back from a Dutch Ministry of the Environment seminar where research from the University of Leiden was presented about the effectiveness of the Global Action Plan’s Household EcoTeam program … and I’m delighted. The program (which CI helped create, see IC #26) helps households adopt more sustainable lifestyles. It has now involved over 8,000 households in more than a dozen countries. Worldwide, these households have achieved an average 40 percent reduction in garbage needing disposal, 12 percent and 15 percent cuts in energy and water consumption respectively, and an 18 percent fall in household CO2 output.

The Leiden researchers noted three significant aspects of the program: 1) the use of EcoTeams, i.e. groups of 6 to 10 households that provide each other with practical assistance and mutual encouragement, 2) supportive information, particularly the Eco Team Workbook which provides both the global importance of these lifestyle changes and guides participants through the practical steps of making them, and 3) the feedback system, which enables each household to compare its own "before and after" and provides each team with the impact, nationally and internationally, of everyone’s efforts in the program.

Their key finding was that, in addition to making significant lifestyle change during the program, the teams’ new ways continued and they made even more change during the six to nine months after! This contrasted strongly with many programs where the effectiveness faded after completion. The researchers also studied the program’s underlying psychological dynamics and concluded that the combination of the teams, information, and feedback provided a uniquely supportive and empowering setting in which new habits could be formed.

I’m delighted by these results because they confirm the effectiveness of an approach to cultural change that:

  • is direct, voluntary, and cooperative
  • doesn’t depend on either the coercive power of government or manipulative advertising
  • does have the cooperation and support of many levels of government, community groups, and businesses
  • focuses on personal empowerment rather than blame.

GAP has already used this research to improve the EcoTeam program. Since there are many other innovative programs for individuals, businesses, and communities that share these characteristics – and the use of teams, information, and feedback- this research may be able to help them become even better and gain much needed support. That’s something we can all celebrate.

To find out more about the research and/or the EcoTeam Program, contact GAP USA, PO Box 428, Woodstock, NY 12498; Fax: 914/679-4834; e-mail gapusa@igc.apc.org, or GAP International, Stjarnvagen 2, S-182 46 Enebyberg, Sweden; Fax: 46 8768 8397; e-mail gapinter@ett.se.

Context Institute’s founder and director Robert Gilman is living in the Netherlands where he is learning Dutch, studying sustainability in Europe, and investigating ways to use the World Wide Web to support cultural change. Robert can be reached via e-mail at: rgilman@context.org.

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