I’m sitting in a circle of about a dozen people, all eyes on me, and it’s confession time.. I don’t drink, I’m not trying to lose weight, but I am trying to reduce my dependency on the car. Welcome to Sustainable Communities South Australia!
Last night I attended my first ever meeting of Sustainable Communities SA, after seeing a flyer posted up at a local shopping centre. The topic of last night’s meeting was “Stages of Change,” a motivational workshop on how to translate ideas into action, I guess something most of us as contributors to Future Challenges aspire to: the power of ideas, effecting real change. The facilitator presented us with a Stages of Change Model adapted from Doppelt’s book ‘The power of sustainable thinking,’ ranging from disinterest to “I might change” (deliberation), “I will change” (commitment) and “I am changing” (doing), identifying barriers that might prevent us from moving from one stage to another, including time, finances, peer pressure and comfort (or laziness).
The second part of the workshop looked at how we might then encourage others in our spheres of influence to follow our example, whether they be family members, colleagues or friends. What impacted me the most was the importance of developing relationships and appealing to people’s emotions. Like any good advertising or PR campaign, it is necessary first to encourage others to reflect on why it is important to change and how will it affect them personally, using testimonials (eg. “This shampoo will make you feel fantastic!”), and then justify this with facts. We all need to ask ourselves the question, “What is my motivation?” Ultimately, we are most inspired by those things that evoke our emotions. One of the group members gave the example of health campaigns: she described how presenting smokers just with facts on the negative health impacts of smoking is often not in itself enough to stop them, but rather, it is necessary to appeal on an emotional level with provoking videos and images (eg, how might their smoking impact upon their relationships, unborn child, or other family members).
In terms of goal-setting, Sustainable Communities SA has developed a wonderful resource called the Eco-footprint Action Booklet, with a comprehensive list of “manageable” steps addressing a variety of issues ranging from water and transport use to food choices and waste. What strikes me most about nearly all of the initiatives is that they not only have a positive impact on the environment, but on community and economic well-being as well. For example, in “walking to the local shops” they also suggest, “smile/greet people you pass on the walk;” and “offer to help a neighbour, by sharing garden produce or bringing in their bins when they are away,” or “identity 3 items you could share with others, borrow or hire rather than buying your own.” Riding a bike and eating whole foods will bring obvious health benefits, while buying fair trade produce will have ethical as well as environmental implications, reaffirming the relationship between environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Overall, I can see Sustainable Communities SA as being a wonderful role model for other cities wanting to become more sustainable. Members are encouraged to join one of 30 small groups based on their local area, so meetings are small-scale, non-political, and fundamentally based on building relationships; by being inclusive and intergenerational, sharing ideas and resources, and holding each other accountable (without being judgemental). In doing so, communities are able to increase their social capital and resiliency, and lead by example. I am really happy about having become a member and look forward to learning more about ways to reduce my ecological footprint, while encouraging and being encouraged by others.
In another month or so it will be “confession time” again, when I report back to my group about how I have gone with sticking to my goals of catching public transport, walking or riding a bike at least once a week – wish me luck!