Earth Hour – how to turn Fellows into ‘Doers’…

April 17, 2012 by
Filed under: Fellowship, Uncategorized 

Hermione Taylor FRSA is Founder of The DoNation, a sponsorship site that replaces cash with action, aiming to actively engage people in living more sustainably. She was one of the entrepreneurs in the RSA Social Enterprise Spotlight last year, receiving invaluable support which enabled The DoNation to survive and thrive through its first year. Hermione guest blogs here about the WWF’s recent Earth Hour, enabling a community of ‘Doers’ and the potential of the RSA Fellowship:

At 8.30pm one recent Saturday night, hundreds of millions of people, from teachers in Brazil to engineers in Kuwait, from Nelson Mandela to KT Tunstall, were all united in action.

What did they do? They turned their lights off.

It may not seem as heroic, emotive, or headline-grabbing as demonstrating in Tahrir Square or taking part in the #riotcleanup, but together these millions formed a truly global and united movement, symbolic both politically, personally, and visually.

Courtesy of Tristan FewingsWWF’s Earth Hour is an annual event when people and organisations from around the world join together and turn their lights out for one hour. Over the last five years it has become a great sign of just what can be achieved when people act together, at the same time as raising wider awareness of our impacts on this planet.

But as we all know, we now need more than just awareness raising; we need action for more than just one hour; and we need action beyond just a flicking of the switch.

Right on cue, WWF saw the opportunity to make more from Earth Hour this year, using it to inspire and encourage longer lasting and broader behaviour change through their recently launched I Will if You Will program.

Given the clear overlap with my work on The DoNation, I was naturally intrigued to see how they were going to tackle the knotty and troublesome issue of environmental behaviour change.

The idea behind I Will if You Will is to incentivise and inspire individuals to take action beyond the hour of Earth Hour using dares and challenges.

I was surprised when I first saw that they’d set such ambitious targets, but I wasn’t surprised to see that none of them had been met. After all, ‘Dunbar’s numbersuggests that no matter what culture or continent we reside in, each of us has about 150 acquaintances, and only 15 good friends who we can strongly influence. This is also backed up in practice by The DoNation, where the average number of sponsors achieved by any one Doer is a reasonably close 14.1.  Bearing a bit of social learning theory in mind, how on earth could one individual hope to influence 10,000 others through one simple ‘dare’?

So I was completely taken aback yesterday when I saw that many of the challenges had reached their targets, totalling a staggering 200,000 actions in just a matter of weeks.

Has Dunbar’s number been thrown into disarray?  And have I been barking up completely the wrong tree with all my work on The DoNation, reaching 1/100th of this scale in almost 12 months?

Has Dunbar’s number been thrown into disarray?  And have I been barking up completely the wrong tree with all my work on The DoNation, reaching 1/100th of this scale in almost 12 months?

But then I looked deeper. I realised that most of these people weren’t really being influenced by their challengers, they were simply joining in the fun, making a dare, or sharing their good deeds. 

At least half of the people committing to take action already seemed to be doing it (“this is easy, I’ve been vegan all my life” commented one person after committing to going vegetarian for a week). And having committed to an action I received no confirmation, reminders, or advice – but assuming that I was new to this earth-saving action, I’d probably need a little support with it. Finally, even if I did manage to complete my action for the pledged week, it’d be unlikely to form any long lasting change, as it’s known to take 66 days to form new habits.

If all 27,000 RSA Fellows turned their lights off for one hour, we could save 1.6 tCO2 – about the same as three flights from London to New York.

But I don’t want to be too critical – bringing together around a billion people over one hour and uniting 200,000 of them in ongoing action is no mean feat. It’s empowering and it raises awareness in a loud and proud way.

As I said before though, we need more than just awareness raising; we need action and we need it to be cross cutting, long term action. As WWF know only too well, it’s not just about turning lights off, and it’s not just about saving carbon; it needs to be about making our lifestyles more sustainable in every way. 

Being a part of the RSA’s Social Entrepreneurs Network and the Spotlight project, I have seen how inspiring people in the Fellowship are. If all 27,000 RSA Fellows turned their lights off for one hour, we could save 1.6 tCO2 (tonnes of carbon dioxide) – about the same as three flights from London to New York. If we all did just one green action for 66 days, we could save over 2,600 tCO2 (equal to 173 Brit’s entire annual carbon footprint) as well as clocking up some great benefits to our health, wellbeing, wallet, and local environment. And if these actions then became a habit for life, well, you can imagine how it scales…

It’s possible, it’s exciting, but it sure as hell isn’t going to be easy. And it starts with you.

Hermione Taylor FRSA

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Comments

  • Jonathanrowson

    Good blog and glad to be reminded of earth hour. It seems it hasn’t yet reached the tipping point where it becomes a ‘household name’ and I wonder what it would take to change that. This time last year it was very much on my mind 
    http://www.rsablogs.org.uk/2011/socialbrain/earth-hour-saturday-march-26th-830930/  but I guess it will only become mainstream when television and radio voluntarily sacrifice that time and switch off…but that will take much more public pressure and political will than we currently have mobilised.