In the Global Village: Options for Moving beyond Binge, Whinge, Cringe in Local Green Accounting

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Nadia McLaren

In the Global Village


Options for Moving beyond Binge, Whinge, Cringe or Stinge in Local Green Accounting

Nadia McLaren
Global Action Plan International  (GAP)
Union of International Associations (UIA)

With thanks to Anthony Judge, UIA and Marilyn  Mehlmann, GAP for their contributions.

Finding meaningful and effective approaches to sustainable development, and which ordinary people can use at the local level, has been the primary goal of Global Action Plan (GAP) since its inception in 1990. GAP's main assumption is that many people want to help create a better environment, but often do not know where to start. Furthermore, people hold the view that they are powerless and that on the whole their individual effort will be negligible.

GAP’s Community Lifestyle Campaigns and Household EcoTeam Programme provide a context and a supportive structure for collective empowerment and practical achievement in local sustainable development.  GAP provides an experiential learning environment for exploring lifestyle choices and effecting desired change.  It accommodates individual temperaments, fosters initiative and community skills and produces significant quantifiable resource savings.

This paper reviews the experience gained by GAP with promoting technical and research projects on sustainable consumption patterns and behaviours at the local level.  It refers to the collection and reporting of results at the household level, the durability of GAP-supported behaviour change and GAP’s partnership with local authorities in over ten countries. 

This paper also places local sustainable development within a global context by introducing some general observations and points for debate - notably “habit systems of temperament”, which by influencing individual and collective response patterns predispose the roles of various actors and their actions of choice. This paper encourages a mix of “temperamental” forms. It argues for a dynamic set of local indicators that can both track and guide desired community change. Such indicators would anticipate their own replacement by others more suitable to the change process in which they are implicated. This paper holds that indicators are not unbiased objective measures, nor is their choice innocent.  The indictors we choose today will significantly determine the quality of our future life.

In the global village

Local government is having an even tougher time since the Earth Summit.  Not only does it continue to take responsibility for that messy “dealing directly with public” side of government affairs; now it must also implement Agenda 21 on the ground. 

At the UIA in Brussels, I edit a participative knowledge base of world problems and strategies[1].  In 1994 we added the sub-strategies of Agenda 21 – over 2000 of them.  I have two very strong impressions from that time.  The first was the disconnectedness of the individual chapters of Agenda 21.  Any cross-relations between, for example, human settlements (Ch. 7) and women (Ch. 24), had been neatly snipped by the process of producing each chapter in isolation[2].  We have spent several years rebuilding the linkages (and inserting linkages to subjects inexplicably excluded from an agenda on global sustainable development, eg tourism (the fastest growing industry sector second to information technologies).

The second recollection is that into each strategy profile we extracted from Agenda 21 we inserted the phrase:

“This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED, now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.”

What struck me at the time was the audacity of the brief.  And the "fluffiness" of many of the strategies waiting to be filled or firmed up.

In short, local governments are now charged with the most visionary and complex assignment in human history.  Implementing sustainable development at the local level.  It requires cross-sectoral, cross-disciplinary competence. It requires new models of social contracting and social accounting.  It requires new modes of thinking and acting.  Moreover, it is at the local government – citizen interface that much of the broad public participation called for by Agenda 21 is expected to occur. 

Local authorities that are responding well to this assignment have been forced to completely revise their activities in less than ten short years.  Many are still fitting their former frames into new clothes, and adjusting the seams.  A more dynamic metaphor for this demanding period of transition is of a Formula I car being completely rebuilt whilst racing.

What is local sustainable development? 

Part of local authorities’ challenge with steering community change, developing accounting systems and monitoring progress towards local sustainable development (LSD), is that there is no set of universal guidelines for LSD.  Is sustainable development a state or a process? Can it be captured and guided by quantitative indicators? How is it served, or badly served, by utopian and austerity thinking? Are there existing models? Is sustainable development sustaining; will it nourish us?  If so, how does it accommodate human diversity, much less the diversity of all living things. What lies beyond it?

When you look into the meaning of the words, there is a type of nonsense in the term "sustainable development" (at least presuming that form of development promulgated up to now).  This ambiguity does not seem to matter – at least not in the sense that it hinders action.  Indeed it has its benefits.  Sustainable development as a conceptual icon has been able to capture the imagination of diverse constituencies precisely because it can hold within its field of meaning so many polarities and debates, understandings and misunderstandings. In this sense, it is not the term that is important, but the achievement of potential for integration.

The United States has recently produced an “Experimental Set of Sustainable Development Indicators” (Appendix 1)[3]. The set of 40 indicators is organised in two ways: (1) economic, environmental and social; and (2) long-term endowments and liabilities; processes; and current results[4].  The first categorisation serves conventional approaches, the second focuses attention on the need to take a long-term view.  Among the 40 indicators, 30 currently show trends with a clear impact relevant to sustainable development and of those 17 were moving in a favourable direction.  The remaining 10 indicators have mixed or uncertain impacts. The point I would make here is that a vision of economic prosperity, a healthy environment and a just and equitable society cannot be fully achieved in any one dimension without compromising achievement in others. Negative trends are not necessarily bad, but probably are if they cannot be explained as direct compensation for positive achievement in other areas; uncertain indications do not necessary point to badly chosen indicators, though they might.

Sustainable development is an optimising process; its indicators are not categorical but should be dynamic measures of an evolving process.  They should also anticipate their own replacement by indicators more suitable to the change process in which they are implicated.

The UNCHS Indicators Programme of the United Nations Commission for Human Settlements (Habitat) has also produced a list of indicators (Appendix 2)[5].  Of interest here is its compatibility with the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI), suggesting it will be possible to produce an HDI for cities.  Comparison between the City HDI and the National HDI should shine clearer light on cities as sustainable or unsustainable habitat, ie irrespective of national differences.  An Adjusted City Product per Person (PPP$) will be used for the economic component of the index, which would also incorporate the human development indicators “Life expectancy at birth”, “Adult literacy rate” and “School enrolment rates”.  The outcome should be enlightening for local authorities that want a wider comparison of their achievement measures, providing comparative indicators of global equity, “efficient” spending etc.; also beneficial in capturing innovations from cities around the world in a common format.

Choices found within the Lifestyle Change Movement

Cool! Where do I get some? [6]


All right…If you insist[7]

“Light Greens”

Er…would rather not, thanks[8]

“Gung-ho greens”
“Green bohemians”

You must be joking![9]

“Nouveau pauvres”
“Neolithic greens”

Put out magazines for collection
Use bottle-bank

Sorting domestic solid waste
Own shopping bag

Home composting
Using refillable bottles

Buy no disposable packaging
BYO containers when shopping

Timer garden taps

Water garden at night

Native gardens
No lawn
Slug traps

Endemic plants
Vegetable garden
Use greywater

Front-loading washing machines
Low-flush toilets

Wait for full load
Eco-friendly washing products
No chlorine bleach

Recycle wash water
Common laundries

Wash underwear, not outerwear
Wash only when really dirty
Composting toilets
Reed bed sewage

Solar water heating

Aerated shower roses

Short showers
No baths

Cold showers

Super-insulated houses
Amazing glazing
Install timer switches

Air-dry clothes
Low-e light bulbs
Gas central heating

Insulated shutters
Ceiling fans
Point heating

Thermal underwear / sweaters
No air-conditioning
No freezer

Lightweight 200-mpg cars Lead-free petrol

Public transport (in car cultures)


No car

Clothes from natural fibres

No fur

Clothes from recycled yarns

Second-hand clothes
No leather

Recycled toilet paper
No junk mail

Re-using envelopes

No newspapers

Only reused paper
Grow trees

Patronise local market
Cooperative grown coffee

Support small shopkeeper
“Vegie coop”
No food additives

Seasonal food
Home preserves

Local diet
Local produce
No processed food

Body Shop products


Make your own cosmetics




Sharing home

Ethical investment

Cooperative banking

LETS systems

Economic communes

Bird feeders
Butterfly plants
Wildflower gardens

Bird watching
No pesticides

No agricultural chemicals
Hand weeding

“Feeding the ants”
Propogating rare plants
“Pee can” for urine fertiliser

Cruelty-free meat

Meat-free days
Fish only

“Chooks” in back yard

Spiking trees
Animal liberation
Sponsoring unfashionable species

E-mail and Internet

Efficiency / consumption meters

Repair, recycle, reuse

Windmills / Watermills

Ecotourism (in exotic places)


Local seaside
Family exhange hols

No air travel
At home holidays
Monitor intertidal reefs for hols

Vitamins / high fibre
Aerobics / massage
Detox centres
No mercury fillings

Complementary therapies, eg acupuncture

Home birth
Eating garlic
No smoking

No addictions
Gathering wild herbal remedies
Communing with trees, devas


2 children max

No children
Adopted / foster child

Tubes tied/cut

A "common-or-garden" practice of local sustainable development

In GAP’s experience, it is sufficient that people can “know” what sustainable development means for them, without needing to agree or to understand in a semantic sense. Hence sustainable development may be tagged with such notions as “developing new technologies”, "consuming less", “sharing more”, “caring more”, "living more simply",  “becoming smarter”, “using less resources”, "making less pollution", “cleaning up” and so on.  It is very possible for people to make a bag of such associations operational at the individual and local level, and with intention, application and common sense achieve a great deal that is commendable.

The table on the previous page illustrates some of the changes people are choosing to make according to individual temperament, coloured by politics and difficulty[10]. Our aspirations for an eco-conscious future will need to represent a blending of such particular slants.  I’ll return to this later, but I want to make the point here that, in our view, enlisting individual citizens to undertake voluntary and informed lifestyle change is the most valuable strategy to achieve LSD contributions from househouses.

How beneficial are such approaches?  Is not to use leather a meaningless sacrifice in environmental terms?  How is the effectiveness of such actions measured? Why can’t we agree on a best way?  Why are there several possible “solutions” to the same problem? Which particular approach is better? Why does one approach work in some places, with some groups, and not others? What really indicates LSD progress?

An explanation based on simple observation is that individual characteristics and ways of perceiving the world condition understandings and judgements.  That is why for some sustainability is determined more by what you do, for others more by what you don’t do, yet others by finding new ways, and still others by retaining old ways or consistent application. How much does this help explain what we should be using as guideposts and what we should be measuring?

Appreciating the role of individual temperament and character

In considering these questions further, I’ve borrowed Robert Cloninger’s psychobiological model of temperament and character[11], currently favoured by those concerned with individual behavioural responses within community contexts.  Cloninger describes four “habit systems” of temperament:

        Harm avoidance producing behavioural inhibition

        Reward dependence producing behavioural modification

        Novelty-seeking producing behavioural activation

        Persistence producing behavioural continuity and consistency[12].

In the following table, I have assigned these four “temperamental” tendencies the shorthand names: “cringe”, “binge”, “whinge” and “stinge” (or “minge” if you prefer).  I have then extrapolated from the individual expression to the collective, assigning the terms, for convenience sake: “singe”, “tinge”, “fringe” and “hinge”[13]. Thus, the temperament of “Harm avoidance”, acting out as “behavioural inhibition” at personal level, is “cringe”; and at the collective level is “singe”.   Conventional illustrations in LSD of “cringe” might be “not mowing the lawn early Sunday morning” or “refusing to drive the car when it is possible to walk”.  “Singe” responses – behavioural inhibition serving the collective good -- might be “raising water prices to limit use”, “regulating emissions”, or “restricting parking spaces”.  You can have a fun time yourselves finding examples of the others.










Harm avoidance

Behavioural inhibition




Reward dependence

Behavioural modification





Behavioural activation





Behavioural continuity and consistency

At first glance, the shorthand names “cringe”, binge  etc convey rather uninspiring personal qualities.  They indeed do represent basic, relatively unimaginative and uncreative behaviours.  However within each temperament there is a range of responses, which can be considered as a path of evolution into more sophisticated forms of expression.  For example, “cringe” (harm avoidance) evolves from “denial” to “avoidance” to “protection” to “mending damage”.  Such evolutionary trends are illustrated in the table on the following page.

At this point, it is very clear just how different can be different individuals’ responses, and response capabilities, to exactly the same situation.  One person will naturally prefer one response strategy to another.  The preferred response of each individual (and indeed each individual family and each individual culture) to the LSD challenge of “enhancing public participation”, for example, is likely to be different simply because of differences in temperament. 

It is also important to recognise that there is no “right” or “wrong” in this table.  There is, however, a sense of progression towards greater capacity and inclusiveness as you move from left to right across the table.  Enhancing inclusiveness and capacity for inclusiveness (community building) is surely a key LSD strategy, and incidentally one for which I have never seen indicators.   I’ll pick up this theme of “absent indicators” later in the paper.

Evolution of personal behaviours


Harm avoidance

Behavioural inhibition



Stick to rules


Projection of problems onto others

Avoid strangers



Respect for authority






“Bite the bullet”

Implement tough decisions

Mending damage

Act according  to conscience


Reward dependence behavioural maintenance

Seek material reward

Selfishness / greed

Conspicuous consumption


End justifies mean

Personal improvement

Personal gratification

“Keeping up with Jones”

“Do unto others…” Dematerialization:

Reuse, Recycling


Personal fulfilment

Spiritual nourishment Affirmation




Behavioural activation

Self-serving complaints

Blame others

Impulsive, and  often overwhelmed by events




“No pain, no gain”


“Put money  where mouth is”



Open to change

Test the limits




Continuity, consistency



“Do just enough to get by”



Accept others weaknesses


Stay  within means

Accept own weaknesses


Returning to community development, in addition to temperament Clonginger recognises three dimensions of character.  The three measures are: self-directedness (relationship to and perception of self); cooperativeness (relationship to society); and self-transcendence (relationship to the world).[14]   Adding these character types into the model, and extrapolating again from the individual to the collective, we get a feel for what the evolution of LSD policy responses, programmes and their indicators of success might look like.  This is illustrated in the table on the next page.

I can sense some of you thinking “this is interesting, but what has it got to do with day-to-day environmental accounting?”.  Let me now outline strategic aspects of the GAP approach to developing more sustainable consumption patterns.  This will interweave theory and practice as we have applied it to the individual and househouse.  In the final section of this paper I draw together some themes that weave a similar context at the level of households, indicators and local authorities.

GAP, short for Global Action Plan for the Earth, is an international family of organisations that distributes the Household EcoTeam Programme, a programme to improve ecologically relevant behaviour within households through Community Lifestyle Campaigns at the municipal level.

Evolution of policy types and their corresponding indicators

Stage I

Stage 2

Stage 3

Stage 4


Unenlightened =


Narrow view

Reluctant reformism


Enlightened conservatism


Sustainability =


Broader view

Character types

Temperament types



Cooperation I

My family / Our mob

Cooperation II

Selective philanthropy

Self- transcendence

Global community


Harm avoidance

Behavioural inhibition

Blanket restriction

“No exceptions”

Scorched earth

The pain is worth it

“Tough love”

“This hurts me more than it hurts you”

Facing up to the truth

Sharing the load

“We’ll tighten our belts together”


Sharing responsibility

Precautionary principle Internalisation of environmental costs


Reward dependence behavioural maintenance

Mutual reinforcement




Growth is good for us


Image building

Vision embodiment

Collective fulfilment

Shared celebration

Intragenerational equity



Behavioural activation






“Blue sky”


Exploring alternate models

Favour variety


Risk taking

In touch with minority views



Continuity and consistency


Status quo

“Business as usual”

Historically determined



Test all  possibilities

Proven link

Experimentally tested

Reconciling existing with emergent

Carrying the load

Intergenerational equity

Working with attitudes and conscious behaviour change[15]

The EcoTeam programme is concerned with sustainable consumption patterns, and starts at the individual and household level. By "patterns" we mean repeated sets of characteristics, behaviours, habits, lifestyles, ways of thinking about, and so on.  We support the development of attitudes that are capable of modifying patterns of consumption, which might initially be summarised as follows:

  • There are problems.
  • The problems are bigger than I am.
  • But I can contribute to a solution.
  • I can contribute as an individual, by my own actions.
  • And I can contribute as a citizen, e.g. by joining pressure groups, voicing my opinions, and voting.
  • I care about the earth, and I will do whatever I can
  • and I believe that participating in this project/programme is a good way for me to contribute.

Critical programme development questions

Questions that are focussed in the design of GAP programmes are, for example:

  • Are people in the affluent countries really prepared to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle?
  • What does "sustainable consumption" mean for the man and woman in the street - big sacrifices or modest cutbacks, or perhaps even an improvement in the quality of life?
  • How big are the potential savings (for the environment and the pocket book) of behavioural change?
  • What is needed to help one person change behaviour?
  • What is needed for a behaviour change to become established habit?
  • How can the process become self-extending (become indepen­dent of constant reminders), to be maintained and progressively deepened?
  • How can large numbers of people be reached within a reasonable peri­od of time with the least possible input of work and other resources?

The questions are primarily behavioural rather than what is normally thought of as "environmental". GAP has therefore sought out disciplines which are relatively untapped by environmental movements. In particu­lar we have found it necessary to adopt a cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral perspective.

In the course of our work we have found that, while the environ­mental content of our programmes needs to be heavily adapted to each participating culture, the answers to the behavioural questions are much more universal.  By this we mean that the difficulties do not lie at the level of temperament or style, but at deeper levels of personal and collective disempowerment. Differences in temperament, when combined in supportive peer groups and directed towards common goals, actually strengthen EcoTeam success.  Experience of success tends to moves the team as a whole, and its individual members, towards the right of table “Evolution of Personal Behaviours” (page 7), building further capacity within the community for local sustainable development.

In the following, we describe opinion surveys indicating answers to some of the above questions, outline the principles of empowerment and of social diffusion, and discuss the merits and demerits of information and behaviour-change campaigns.

Opinions and surveys

Many surveys show that the majority of people in the affluent countries would like to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle but:

  • doubt that others feel the same
  • experience themselves as powerless in relation to both environmental problems and to societal development in general
  • don't know where to begin.

A survey made by a foundation in Washington[16] showed for exam­ple that close to two thirds of the population value family, community and health ahead of possessions, salary and status; but less than one third believe others feels the same. A Norwegian survey[17] gives similar results.

The Merck Family Fund contracted a survey of the US "market" for GAP's EcoTeam programme. They found that 43% of respondents were prepared to attend an information meeting about the programme. Statistics show that around 80% of those who attend such meetings actually join the programme. The independent con­sultants who conducted the survey conclude that the goals of GAP USA regarding recruitment to teams - that is, to recruit 10-15% of the popula­tion in selected neighbourhoods to an ambitious behaviour-change programme - is fully realistic.


The principles of empowerment are at the heart of GAP programmes[18]. Em­powerment can be viewed both as a condition and as a process. The condition of empowerment implies a feeling of being reasonably in charge of a situation. The condition can be general (I feel in charge of my life) or specific (when my children are threatened, I become a tiger).

The increasing interest in this phenomenon over the past two decades may be connected with the spread all over the world of a growing feeling of powerlessness. Many people today experience a lack of choice in their lives at any level. This experience seems to be at least, if not more, wide­spread in the affluent countries as in the poorer and is thus an expression less of "fact" than of perception.

An empowerment process is either inner (I learn to progressively experience more control over my own life), which can be compared to a general maturation process; or the result of external support, for example through an empowerment programme.

A coach usually leads an empowerment programme. The task of the coach is to support participants so that they progressively learn to take (and experi­ence that they are taking) more power over their own situation, in gene­ral or specifically in relation to a given area, for example in relation to environmental questions.

Empowerment is sometimes compared with or even confused with quite different phenomena, for example motivation, delegation or "cheering on". A significant difference is that the empowerment process is rooted in the individual's own maturation process and is therefore comparatively little dependent on external inputs. For a coach it is a question of bringing forth rather than pushing forward.

The principles of empowerment are integrated into GAP programmes, including the EcoTeam workbook, the coach training, and the design of the actual EcoTeam process[19].

Social diffusion

The processes governing diffusion of behavioural change have been the subjects of much research. The results are used primarily by marketers and advertisers in order to prevail upon as many people as possible to change their purchasing behaviour as fast as possible.

From our perspective, sustainable consumption is likely to grow from conscious, informed choice rather than "market-directed” mechanisms.  Evidence supporting this view is provided later in the paper.

We have developed our community programme based on the same research findings, and believe our programmes should be more effective and more sustainable than an equivalent public relations campaign because:

  • we offer support for a conscious decision to change behaviour
  • we help create understanding of the reasons why the new behaviour is preferable to the old
  • participants are supported to establish the new behaviour as a habit

Some of the basic rules for effective behaviour change programmes that can be derived from social diffusion theory[20] are:

  • concentrate efforts on groups with natural contact with each other, for example neighbourhoods
  • address first efforts to the "early adopters", or potential pioneers
  • see that the early adopters' changes are publicised
  • see that the new behaviour appears in some way successful to others - better, cheaper, trendier, and more fun
  • not to waste time on those whose concerns are otherwise.

To campaign or not to campaign

Many studies document the strengths and weaknesses of information campaigns as a tool for behaviour change. One major work[21] concludes that "education can make a difference in people's behaviour, but there are serious limits to what it can accomplish".  Information does not in itself lead to behavioural change.

There is a considerable difference between a traditional information campaign (and an awareness raising campaign), and an empowerment programme.

Behaviour changes triggered by an information campaign

Traditional methods build on an information/media campaign directed at households or individuals, which is limited in time and often inten­sive (and expensive). The anticipated effect is postulated from a linear model without feedback:

  • information
  • knowledge
  • attitude
  • values
  • behaviours

However, we people seldom function according to this model. Instead, in the best case we experiment with new behaviours. When our imagina­tion is tickled, we search out new sources of knowledge. When behavi­our and knowledge "feel right", we can afford to change our attitudes and values.

We can afford to care about problems to the extent that we believe we can do something about them. Action therefore often needs to pre-date changes of values, in order to establish the feasibility of the project. With­out perceived feasibility, we tend to adopt coping strategies like ignoring the problem ("it's not really so bad"), preaching the impossibility of doing anything, or paying dues to someone who is supposed to fix it.

An information campaign therefore starts at the most difficult end. Its effects are not sustained and typically decline to around 10% when the immediate effects of the campaign have worn off.

Behaviour changes triggered by an active, conscious process

The EcoTeam programme builds upon a cyclical, self-reinforcing process:

  • caring
  • meeting others who care
  • seek out knowledge
  • behaviour
  • experimenting with new behaviour caring more 
  • feedback


Independent research on effectiveness of GAP

Research is scarce on long term effects of intervention techniques in producing pro-environment behaviour change. The few studies into the persistence of short-term effects have concluded that achieved improvements on environmentally behaviour tend to diminish on the longer run[22].

At the University of Leiden in the Netherlands researchers have studied the EcoTeam programme over a number of years. They found that, on average, each participating household adopted 28 new behaviours during the programme[23]. When followed up 9-12 months later they retained on average 22 of the new habits; and 43% of the households had also adopted a number of new, environmentally sounder behaviours so that the overall result (two years later) was over 100% (rather than the more typical 10%).

Effects on quantitative environmental resources

Improvement of pro-environmental behaviour is a valuable result of the EcoTeam Programme. This produces continuing and long-term benefit. The fact that significant environmental resources are saved, and there is measurement of that during the programme, is equally important.  The main parameters used by GAP are the consumption of gas, electricity and water and the production of waste. These are under the control of the participants and can be measured by them, usually directly and quantitatively. Data before, directly after and two years after participation are compared in the table on the next page.

Comparison of environmental resources used before, shortly after and two years after participation in the EcoTeam Programme (ETP)[24].

prior to ETP
shortly after participation  
2 years after ETP
Waste (kilograms p.p. per day) 0.216 (0.15) 0.153  (0.12)  = -29% **   0.145 (0.12)   =  -32% ** 37
Natural gas (M3 p.p. per week) 0.299 (0.21) 0.237  (0.18)  = -21% *** 0.248 (0.18)   =  -17% *** 77
Electricity (kwh p.p. per week) 27.2 (15.4) 25.9 (15.6) = -%  ns  25.1 (14.3) = -% *  83
Water (M3 p.p. per week) 0.854 (0.38) 0.830  (.38)   = -3%  ns      0.796 (0.33)  = -7% *  75

All data are presented as average weekly consumption per household member (except for household waste, which is presented as average daily production). Data about the used amount of natural gas is corrected for outside temperature
*=p<.05, **=p<.01,***=p<.001, ns = non significant change.

The data from the Dutch study indicate that shortly after participation in the Household EcoTeam Programme savings are achieved on household waste and natural gas, while the savings on electricity and water are not statistically significant and must be assumed unchanged for this group of respondents. In the longer run however, it appears that improvements have been achieved in all four domains. EcoTeam participants have persisted in reducing their consumption of environmental resources after their formal involvement in the programme ceased.

From their analyses of psychological backgrounds, the researchers conclude that two personal characteristics - perceived behavioural control and habit -­ have become stronger during participation in the EcoTeam Programme.  In Cloninger’s terms, the temperamental quality of persistence has been strengthened, one may presume through learning and formation of new habit patterns.

We believe the EcoTeam process is effective because participants have control and can choose to act in relation to their resource use and their own preferences. There is a choice of actions, always some that are basic, others that are more challenging.  The team offers a "safe" environment in which to experiment and to grow towards new attitudes and values.  Even the most “environmentally advanced” member can be challenged to improve their community skills by working on improving the performance of the team as a whole.

The results in other countries are similar to those found in the Netherlands.  (In most countries, savings of energy exceed those in the Netherlands.)  With the exception of the UK, EcoTeams are using a programme which, while on the environmental level it differs considerably, at the design level is remark­ably similar.
The elements of empowerment and social diffusion designed into the programme include for example:

  • feedback at several levels
    • each household is enabled to monitor its own progress
    • -  each household can see its contribution to the community and/or the national programme
    • -  country results are summarised and circulated both to EcoTeams, to local and national governments, and to intergovernmental organisations
  • high degree of self-organisation
    • -  each member of a team is expected to take responsibility for running a meeting, as "topic leader"
    • -  topic leaders are offered special support to make sure they succeed
    • -  the team has great flexibility in planning its programme, within a supportive framework
  • carefully designed support
    • -  each team has a coach
    • -  the coaches are trained to support rather than lead the team
  • teams are concentrated in community programmes
    • -  the early approach of starting teams "wherever" has been replaced by a strategy of working in selected neighbourhoods within selected com­munities, in collaboration with local government and, where appro­priate, utilities or business
    • -  each community (or group of smaller communities) has a project manager who is specially trained and coached
    • -  recruiting to teams is concentrated in time and space
    • -  community programmes are planned for 3-5 years
  • win-win solutions are crafted by focussing initially on actions which save not only natural resources but also money

Such programmes are now operating in many European countries, including Russia and Poland, the USA, and beginning in Korea and Japan. In addition, the EcoTeam programme is available in Turkish in the Netherlands.  In all these countries and cultures we so far find a common response to the elements of personal action opportunities, multi-level feedback, neigh­bourhood activities, and membership of a broad, grass-roots movement with positive links with local government and business.


A new type of policy instrument?

When traditional instruments of social governance and the new ecological tools of industry reach their limits, what is there next to use – rhetoric and the persuasive arts, belief systems, emotional appeals?[25]  Considering the stick and carrot metaphor of social change (alternating pressure and encouragement); we know the sticks, but what are the carrots? 

What can move people to change lifestyle patterns?  We cannot rely simply on the attractiveness of new technologies. These may give us the power to do more with less, but the overwhelming tendency is to do more with the same, and not the same with less

Environmental policy officials of the Netherlands Government and the OECD, with whom we work, say that GAP’s programmes represent a fourth environmental policy instrument: the first three are carrot, stick, and education; GAP adds empowerment. 

Household indicators - practical considerations

Let’s return to the table on page 4, which shows indicative substitution strategies for lifestyle change from “Eco-chic” (Easy…) preferences through “Light Greens” and “Green Bohemians” to “Neolithic Greens” (You must be joking!…).  If we were able to measure the environmental benefits of these items, we would find a generally negative association between benefit and acceptability.  What is acceptable doesn’t make much difference while what is environmentally powerful is unacceptable, ie hard to implement.  This is illustrated in the table below for reclaiming household nutrients.  Clearly it does not make sense to recycle the nutrient value of faeces and grey water in advance of the other three waste streams.

Reclaiming Household Nutrients

Ease of collection and processing

Nutrient value



Garden wastes




Food wastes

Food wastes


Garden wastes



Grey water

Grey water

Were it to turn out that the “Green Bohemian” lifestyle pattern is only 20% better than “Eco-chic” in environmental terms, why bother with trying to persuade anybody of its virtues; effort would be far better spent refining sophisticated eco-techniques.  If, on the other hand, the Bohemian pattern reduced overall impact by (say) 80%, then clearly it would be worth more of everybody’s attention.  The task would then be to make it palatable, streamline it, work out and develop the necessary infrastructures, weed out sticking points, add sweeteners and technical refinements; and of course, try it ourselves.

The truth is probably somewhere in between.  Then a twofold strategy makes sense. The first would be to “cherry-pick” maverick lifestyle changes that are both highly acceptable and environmentally beneficial.  The second is to offer people a safe and attractive way of trying out behaviours that are on the edge of their current acceptability.  GAP does both.  The first table on the next page “cherry picks” some most powerful actions from the range relevant to GAP activity areas.  The second table gives examples of options that EcoTeam participant might choose according to their temperament (one trait that we may assume significantly affects acceptability).

Examples of most powerful actions from the GAP programme

GAP category

Cool! Where do I get some?

All right…If you insist

“Light Greens”

Er…would rather not, thanks

“Gung-ho greens”
“Green bohemians”

You must be joking!

“Nouveau pauvres”
“Neolithic greens”



Sorting domestic solid waste

Home composting

Not buy unrecyclable packaging



Water garden at night

Local native plant garden

Water and Energy


Experiment with showering and washing clothes less often

Home energy


Dress appropriate to the weather


Personal mobility


Drive economically “advanced driving”


Sustainable consumption / Products

Buy ecolabelled  products whenever reasonable to do so



Examples of most acceptable actions from the GAP Programme


GAP Activity Areas







Empowering others


Harm avoidance

Behavioural inhibition

Recycle and reuse

Turn off taps

Reduce bills for home energy

Reduce short car journeys

No additives in food

Buy ecolabels

Coaching others


Reward dependence Behavioural maintenance

Collect and dispose with neighbours


Monitor accounts and gas meter

Car pool

Support local shops and producers

Request to stock  eco-friendly products


Peer reinforcement



Behavioural activation

Worm-bin composting

Low-flow shower heads and faucets

Lag hot water pipes

Advanced driving

Menu planning

Avoid impulse buying

Topic leader in EcoTeam meeting



Continuity and consistency

Establish home waste separation system

Change faucets and fittings

Turn down thermostat of central heating

Service car regularly

Get to know products and buy consistently

Regular meetings

Quality of Life vs Standard of Living

One additional benefit of enabling conscious informed choice of behaviour change, as GAP does, is that given the right sort of experience, people may freely choose intangible alternatives.  Such choices often reflect an exchange of Standard of Living for Quality of Life – like the cities of Freiburg, Aarhus, Curitiba and Groningen, for instance, which have

decisively shifted the balance of transport modes against the private car.  At first there was a furious reaction from motorists and the car/road lobbies and dire warnings from business

that this would spell commercial disaster.  But the result was quite the opposite.  Suddenly everyone was able to experience something they could not have experienced before: car-free zones, cleaner air, a more peaceful atmosphere, safe and rapid cycling, reliable public transport, carefree walking, a mosaic of contiguous public and private spaces. They liked it.  People wanted to be in the new liberated space … and so business also boomed.  To return to the status quo is laughable for them. 

 “Quality of Life” is usually treated as a ghostly emergent property of “Standard of Living”, not something with a life of its own, and certainly not something that can be approached directly.  Even if they could envisage it, local authorities may be reluctant to encourage direct quality of life initiatives because they have no reason to think anyone want them.  However, consider the difference between walking to work along a busy highway and through concrete pedestrian underpasses compared with walking to work through a market square, pedestrian zones and parks.  Not only is the quality of the second experience higher for almost everyone, the threshold level to change behaviour from car use to walking is reduced.  Standard of living indicators, the sort that UNDP, Habitat and national and state governments would use, will never reveal that difference.  These are only detectable at the local government level, and only if the local authority has thought them important statistics to collect.

The proactive role of indicators in LSD

Which brings me to my final point. Our choice of indicators is not innocent. The indictors we choose today can significantly determine future reality.  We may like to think that indicators are unbiased objective measures.  They are indeed measures, but they are much more.  The transformative power of indicators is very much determined by their framing.

Remedial  performance indicators[26]

Most common indicators, for example those I have presented in the Appendices, might be called performance indicators.  Performance indicators clarify the situation as to how good (or bad) things are and how much better (or worse) they are likely to get.  They offer a description of what is (not) happening; as a consistent series they describe a trend.

Within an operational context of scrutiny and rapid response capability, well-chosen performance indicators would constitute important warnings and activate course correction.  In the reality of local governance, however, performance indicators can monitor change but are inadequate to stimulate remedial action.  They can only activate change through complex pathways, or perhaps not at all.  There is no information in performance indicators that reveals whether the information they provide is capable of being acted upon. Moreover, there is also no way to be certain that performance indicators are changing for reasons other than the action deliberately taken to change them.

Remedial capacity indicators would have two properties:

  •    The capacity for recognising the significance of performance indicators; and
  •    The capacity for generating appropriate response.

They might also be termed “remedial potential indicators”.  Such indicators would indicate the capacity for recognising a problem, trend etc (implicit in the performance indicator) and initiating effective remedial action.

Take the example of  “floor area per person”, an indicator in the Habitat list in Appendix 2.  This is a performance indicator.  It identifies the situation but provides no insight into whether this is problematic nor whether anything can be done about it.  Any given data may correspond to a state of “overcrowding”, or a tendency to live closely in families, or a condition of cheap and abundant housing, or a money and/or land rich community, or cultural preferences, or climatic influences, or most likely some combination of all or any of these.  There is no way to know from the bare indicator; and even for those with local knowledge it still may be difficult to know whether this is an indicator worth acting upon. 

Assuming there were a genuine overcrowding problem, there is no information contained within this indicator on the potential for remedying the problem.  If the remedial potential were high, then surely this should be given priority attention and resources.  If the remedial potential were low, then however great the overcrowding, and however much information was available on it, it is improbable that anything of non-cosmetic significance could be done at this time.  This would focus resources on other, more tractable challenges. 

The reciprocal of a remedial capacity indicator might be called an “impotence indicator”.  Impotence indicators would indicate a well-established inability to respond to undesired situations, for instance “income gap = widening”; “incidence childhood asthma = increasing”. 

 The fact of an impotence indictor should not be viewed in a totally negative light.  It may indicate callous inaction, but it more likely draws attention to a failure of all previous initiatives to change a situation and cautions against a pointless continuance of such effort.  An impotence indicator may also suggest that cause and effect are not well enough understood to make this a useful measure; perhaps the issue can be broken down into simpler components.  Lastly an impotence indicator may highlight a conspiracy of denial about true causes.  “Cancer rates = increasing” would seem to have a very low remedial capacity.  In fact, there is good reason to believe the remedial capacity is rather high.  It is argued that reducing environmental pollution to levels of 40 years ago would reduce most cancer rates to those of 40 years ago.  Why is it we choose to put vast effort and money into finding the “magic bullet cure” for cancer, rather than dealing with the cause?

Quality of life indicators

Local government and household indicators, because they are aggregated from smaller samples, are much more likely to relate to the reality of people’s lives than city, regional and national indicators.  Therefore, they can be powerfully involved in improving the quality of daily life.

If “walking to work (school, shops etc)” is seen as a measure of sustainable living that a community wants to enhance, then choosing to collect statistics on “number of people walking to work” will provide some basic information.  It gives a snapshot indication of current performance, and may over time show some useful trend; but it is backward-looking rather than forward-looking and on its own is unlikely to move the policy further.  As an isolated measure it may even disguise what is really happening and mask ways to raise the frequency of “walking to work”.

Another indicator, “number of major road crossings walking to work”, would provide a better sense of the challenge involved (although it does not remove the possibility that some other critical factor(s) have been overlooked).  This indicator also reminds municipal planners and administrators that the matter is important when considering new residential and business areas or new roads; it would give citizens ammunition if the data showed such quality was being reduced. 

However, compared with the two indicators above, the “quality of life” indicator “number who enjoy walking to work” would add completely different dimensions and present an interesting set of questions which may throw up new associations and solutions.  In comparative terms, description of a community with a high frequency of walking because it is the travel mode of choice gives even strangers to the community an immediate sense of what must be like to live there.

Meaningful and inspirational indicators of LSD

Last year I was at a conference in London jointly organised by UK, Dutch and Danish agencies concerned with environmental statistics.  The conference was called “Bridging the Gap” It explored the status, uses and value of environmental indicators. One concern was whether indicators could be relied upon to indicate what they were claimed to indicate.  One of the pitfalls, it seems, is that indicators can be rather self-serving, somewhat like the selfish gene.  Indicators showing no improvement just beg for more attention and effort.  Indicators chosen for political motives, which they help to further, are rewarded with a continuing existence.

A plenary debated how meaningful are technical indicators for ordinary people, the media, decision-makers etc.  It seems that many indicators for which data are collected by government programmes are ambiguous, incomprehensible or so subject to qualification by their monitors that they are of little practical value to ordinary folk.  Moreover, indicators on other things, things which people would like to know about, are often absent. 

Clearly we can’t expect that all indicators to be as involving and comprehensible as the marks on the wall that showed our growth through childhood.  However, I believe we do deserve indicators that are better in touch with our values, that we can relate to personally, and which can capture the difference between the current unsustainable present and our preferred vision of sustainable future for ourselves and our children.  GAP’s experiments with collecting and influencing such data at the household level have some way to go. Nonetheless, the results to date are remarkable and are clearly benefiting from closer partnership with local authorities.

Appendix 1: Experimental Set of Sustainable Development Indictors

U.S. Interagency Working Group on Sustainable Development Indicators



Impact of Trend

     +ve    -ve    ?

Economic Indicators

Capital Assets

Labor Productivity

Federal Debt to GDP Ratio

Energy Consumption per Capita and per Dollar of GDP

Materials Consumption per Capita and per Dollar of GDP


Investment in R&D as Percentage of GDP

Domestic Product

Income Distribution

Consumption Expenditures per Capita


Homeownership Rates

Percentage of Households in Problem Housing














Environmental Indicators

Surface Water Quality

Acres of Major Terrestrial Ecosystems

Contaminants in Biota

Quantities of Spent Nuclear Fuel

Status of Stratospheric Ozone

Greenhouse Climate Response Index

Ratio of Renewable Water Supply to Withdrawals

Fisheries Utilization

Invasive Alien Species

Conversion of Cropland to Other Uses

Soil Erosion Rates

Timber Growth to Removal Balance

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Identification & Management of Superfund Sites

Metropolitan Air Quality Nonattainment

Outdoor Recreation Activities










                          •                          •






Social Indicators

U.S. Population

Children Living in Families with One Parent Present

Teacher Training and Application of Qualifications

Contributing Time and Money to Charities

Births to Single Mothers

Educational Attainment by Level

Participation in the Arts and Recreation

People in Census Tracts with 40% or Greater Poverty

Crime Rate

Life Expectancy

Educational Achievements Rates in Mathematics












Appendix 2: Habitat’s Short list of key indicators

UNCHS Global Urban Observatory, Urban Indicators Programme

  Background data    

  D1: Land use   

  D2: City population   

  D3: Population growth rate   

  D4: Woman headed households   

  D5: Average household size   

  D6: Household formation rate   

  D7: Income distribution   

  D8: City product per person   

  D9: Tenure type   

Socioeconomic Development   

 1: Households below poverty line   

 2: Informal employment   

 3: Hospital beds   

 4: Child mortality   

 5: Life expectancy at birth   

 6: Adult literacy rate   

 7: School enrollment rates   

 8: School classrooms   

 9: Crime rates   


10: Household connection to   

     water, sewerage, electricity, telephone   

11: Access to potable water   

12: Consumption of water   

13: Median price of water   


14: Modal split   

15: Travel time   

16: Expenditure on road infrastructure   

17: Automobile ownership   

Environmental Management

18: Wastewater treated   

19: Solid waste generated   

20: Disposal methods for solid waste   

21: Regular solid-waste collection   

22: Housing destroyed    

Local Government   

23: Major sources of income   

24: Per-capita capital expenditure   

25: Debt service charge   

26: Local government employees   

27: Wages in the budget   

28: Contracted recurrent expenditure ratio   

29: Government level providing services   

30: Control by higher levels of government   


31: House price to income ratio   

32: House rent to income ratio   

33: Floor area per person   

34: Permanent structures   

35: Housing in compliance   

36: Land development multiplier   

37: Infrastructure expenditure   

38: Mortgage to credit ratio   

39: Housing production   

40: Housing investment


[1] Union of International Associations, Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, 4th ed 1994/95, Saur Verlag, Munich.

[2] To see this for yourself, look at the complete texts of the UNCED Conference documents: Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 3-14 June 1992),  A/CONF.151/26 (Vol. I-III + Annexes) and Conventions.

[3] U.S. Interagency Working Group on Sustainable Development Indicators, 1998. Sustainable Development in the United States: An Experimental Set of Indicators. A Progress Report.

[4] Long–term endowments and liabilities include things like capital assets, natural resource stocks, or hazardous wastes – things that could affect well-being today and in the future.  Processes include things like investment or pollution that could affect either long-term endowments or current conditions.  Current results include matters affecting everyday lives, such as crime rates, air quality or the gross domestic product.

[5] UNCHS Global Urban Observatory, Urban Indicators Programme.

[6] Cost-free or very attractive items that go completely with the grain of consumer culture.

[7] Things that have a certain cost or require a slight change of taste or habit – and encouragement.

[8] Bigger changes requiring substantial commitment; often perceived as eccentric or reduction in living standards.

[9] Unthinkable drastic changes or limitations…for the vast majority, that is.

[10] Inspired by Peter Harper of the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, who introduced me to some of the more specialised cliques within the Lifestyle Movement, with its slogan “Live Simply that All May Simply Live” – “eco-cultural radicals”, who think that life could actually be better with altered lifestyles; “neo-puritans” and “reflective Luddites”, who think much modern technology is unhealthy or spiritual degrading; “eco-rationalists” who believe that the relationship between happiness and consumption is relatively weak.

[11] Cloninger CR, Svrakic DM, Przybeck TR. A psychobiological model of temperament and character.

Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 1993 50:975-990.

[12] For “persistence” alone, the words in italics are mine.

[13] According to Cloninger, the four “habit systems” of temperament are based on an unconscious response to emotional stimuli., but are moderated by conceptual or symbolic learning.  The types are essentially independent phenotypically and genetically and are substantially (40-60%) heritable. An individual stabilises in temperament type by age 6,. but can be influenced by subsequent learning.  The first three types are thought to reflect separate neurochemical systems in the brain.  Novelty seeking, for example, is related to dopamine.  Various temperament combinations produce recognisable personality types.  Someone high in novelty seeking and low in harm avoidance, for instance, may be drawn to such things as scuba diving and hang gliding, while a novelty seeker who is also a harm avoider might look for safer thrills – trying out new types of food or worm composting.

[14] The factors of “character” involve a sense of self and propositional learning.  As distinguished from temperament, character changes with age, and it is very strongly influenced by family and other aspects of the social environment.

[15] The following text on GAP is largely drawn from writings of Marilyn Mehlmann, consultant to,and former Secretary-General of, GAP International, pers comm.

[16] The Harwood Group, 1995. Yearning for Balance:  views of Americans on consumption, materialism and the environment.  Merck Family Fund, Takoma Park, MD & National Research Council, USA

[17] Dag Hareide, 1996 Det Gode Norge. Norwegian Society for Conservation of Nature, Oslo.


[18] David Gershon and Gail Straub, 1991. Empowerment: the art of creating your life as you want it. Delta, USA.

[19] Our motto is “Be a drop in the bucket, filling it up, rather than just a drop in the ocean”.  Alternatively “If you think you are too small to count, you have never shared your bed with a mosquito”.

[20] Everett M. Rogers, 1983 (3rd ed.). Diffusion of Innovations. Free Press, New York.

[21] Gerald T. Gardner and Paul C. Stern, 1996. Environmental Problems and Human Behaviour.  Allyn & Gardner Bacon, Boston.

[22] Dwyer, W. O., Leeming, F. C., Cobern, M. K., Porter, B. E. and Jackson, J. M. 1993. Critical review of behavioral interventions to preserve the environment. Research since 1980. Environment and Behavior, 25, 275-321.

[23] Staats, H. J.  and Harland, P. 1995. The EcoTeam Program in the Netherlands.  Study 4: A longitudinal study on the effects of the EcoTeam Program on environmental behaviour and its psychological backgrounds.  Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Centre for Energy and Environmental Research, Leiden University,  Netherlands.

[24] Harland, P and Staats, H.J. (1997). Long term effects of the EcoTeam Program in the Netherlands. Study 4: The situation two years after participation. Centre for Energy and Environmental Research, Leiden University,  Netherlands. E&M/R-95-57.

[25] Most politicans would agree with the statement of the (then) British Minister of the Environment “Governments have little experience in bringing about the degree of change that is required to attain sustainable development.” (Gummer, John.  1996. “Valuing the Environment”.  In: Our Planet, Vol. 8.2, August 1996, UNEP.

[26] This section of the paper has drawn upon the ideas of Anthony Judge, notably his paper Remedial Capacity Indicators versus Performance Indicators.  Paper prepared for a meeting on social indicators of the Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development project of the United Nations University (Warsaw, December 1981).  Published in: Insights into Maldevelopment: reconsidering the idea of progress.  Edited by Jan Danescki et al., Warsaw, University of Warsaw.  Paper also available at