Do we have to get mean to be green?

Why is it that some people do everything they can to recycle and save energy, but others can’t be bothered to put their newspapers in a recycling bag? And how do we get them to change their ways? I’ve been mulling this after attending an Energy Saving Trust forum last week as Green Voice of the UK and meetings of our Billericay Greening Campaign which is trying to get local groups to save energy and cut waste.


The following two incidents struck me as illuminating. Members of our Greening Campaign committee reported back on a visit they’d made to a local junior school, where they met the members of its green group. These kids are aged between five and seven but frankly they could teach us all a lesson. Every day one of them takes responsibility for being ‘green monitor’ and turning off the lights in the classroom and making sure any taps are turned off. They make up pads for their teachers and classmates using paper that’s only been used on one side. And when they receive junk mail through the post, they write back to the corporate perpetrators asking them why they are wasting paper by doing so! Can you imagine being one of those companies and receiving a letter from a five year old?! Our committee members were speechless.

In contrast, over the weekend I was at an event where tea and coffee was served. We were drinking out of plastic cups so, when I’d finished, I asked for the recycling bag. It turned out that they just threw them in the bin each week. “That’s a bit naughty,” I pointed out. “Oh, it’s fine,” said the lady in charge. “We buy them from a pound shop so it’s not a problem.” She didn’t seem to get what I was on about, but perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. All I know is that the school green group wouldn’t have been impressed!


So, how do we get people to change their behaviour? Is it better to incentivise people to go green or introduce punitive fines for repeat offenders? A consultant I met at the Energy Saving Trust forum had a pessimistic view on this. “I really think we should fine people who don’t recycle,” he told me. “It’s the only way to get them to do anything. And energy bills are going to have to go up, too.”

But a heated debate broke out last week between our Greening Campaign committee members over this issue. One member, who claims some of his neighbours never put out any recycling bags, argued that people who don’t recycle should be fined. He claims that this is the only way to make repeat offenders change their ways. Like many others, our council recently introduced fines on a three strikes and you’re out basis. But another member angrily disagreed, arguing that positive measures, such as council tax breaks, were the only way to make people go green.

I asked an energy surveyor I met at the EST forum for his thoughts. Part of his job is visiting homeowners to assess how to make their homes more energy efficient. He said that in his experience he found that the very rich or very poor have no interest in saving energy or going green, but that the people in between were the keenest to take action. The very rich weren’t concerned, he claimed, because they could pay their bills and the very poor tended to be uninterested or lacking in knowledge about the issues – presumably because they have more pressing problems.

Perhaps money is the underlying issue. While people can afford to throw things away, like the group with the pound shop plastic cups, maybe they will continue to do so. Residents in my town have an average carbon footprint that’s 20 per cent higher than the UK norm. Hardly anybody shuts their curtains in the evenings to retain the heat and many people leave multiple lights burning in several rooms. Our town is relatively affluent, so I wonder if people don’t bother to conserve energy because they can afford the bills. But will we always be able to?

I dislike the idea of green taxes and much prefer the idea of giving people a reduction in their council tax or vouchers as incentives to be more environmentally friendly. People are already sceptical about the climate change debate and have enough money worries right now. But even I am beginning to wonder if fines and other punitive measures are the only way to change certain people’s behaviour.

What do you think? Would fines or incentives make you more likely to recycle, go green or save energy? Have you got other ideas? Leave a message and let me know.

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8 Responses to Do we have to get mean to be green?

  1. Son of Hood says:

    It\’s a good blog post and it reveals some interesting truths. Education is the key to getting people to go green. If you are lucky enough to have a school that will operate a green policy then as you correctly point out, children can then teach adults a few good habits.I think that most parents would join in with their children if they came home full of good habits. It\’s a bit like turning things on their head really because a few years ago we always had to scream at the kids to turn lights off and now they are the ones who are are wagging the finger at their parents.A positive program of encouragement from Local Authorities would be welcome together with a concerted effort from The Media but so far as fines are concerned I am afraid that gets my hackles up.You would have no problem whatsoever in gathering support for fines from local Government, after all it\’s what they do best. They are constantly looking for ways to raise money through fines and other stealthy means and then squander it on themselves.Corporations & Public Bodies could be regulated and possibly fined for non compliance but so far as ordinary people are concerned I think it is out of the question. Why breed even more resentment for authority that we already have?

  2. Syl says:

    Hi Piper! Education should indeed come first, so many people are clueless! Team that up with incentives and a lot of people will get in on the act. Maybe they won\’t be as committed as greenies, but even a little energy conservation / recycling / waste reduction is a step in the right direction. I honestly don\’t think fines would work as they will make people angry, defensive and some even more determined to stick to their wasteful ways.There nothing wrong with hitting people where it hurts, ie in their pocketbook, but fines are not the way to do it. We have plastic/metal and paper recycling at the curb and proprietary garbage and recycling bags (1 per type of waste, city-branded). "Garbage" bags are expensive whereas recycling bags are very cheap. The more you throw out, the more it costs you in bags. If you reduce your household waste and recycle as much as possible then you pay far less. Families with children in diapers or those with special needs get some freebies from the city. Is it perfect? No, but it\’s not bad. And it definitively gets people recycling voluntarily once they know how to do it. Does it go far enough? No, it doesn\’t, but it\’s a good first step and as eco-education pervades our culture via the younger generation than it gets better and better.Expensive garbage bags funds the city\’s free eco classes & workshop; everything from energy saving, to recycling, re-using and composting. Teach people a better way, show them how it makes a tangible difference and most will follow.

  3. Flo says:

    Fines, bin inspectors and lectures on the environment will not lead to a change in the way we live. The cure for waste is a change of values to a way of life which is not based on your ability to purchase goods. We are an affluent country with two or three generations who have seen nothing but rising living standards which has bred the attitude of the right to buy and the right to waste. Now there is no respected leadership in this country which can set an example of frugality and using what we have more effectively. The economic situation of the past couple of years has not led to initiatives that will change the way we live to a more environmentally friendly culture by putting money into infrastructure such as more environmentally friendly ways of travel, producing energy or food. Money has been put into keeping the consumer spending to prop up the capitalistic way of life that we have known for the last two or three generations. Remember the VAT rate dropping to encourage us to continue to shop? And you wonder why people don’t worry about recycling. There’s nothing to encourage the mindset is there? Where’s the incentive to for reusing, repairing and reducing what they buy. We are being bribed to do the opposite in fact.

  4. Unknown says:

    To a great extent I agree with Flo\’s comments. After WWII, while we were still paying back huge amounts of money loaned from America it was matter of pride that we reused or recycled items – \’make do and mend\’ was a demonstration of commitment to the country but also our ingenuity. It was not just a matter of accepting an unpleasant situation, this was turned around so that people were proud of what they achieved. Instead of taxation to prevent behaviour (a principle which has clearly failed in every area it was applied) we need to celebrate a culture that takes pride in its efforts to reduce waste and protect the planet. Financial incentivisation is not enough; what we need is to develop a culture of re-using/recycling items and not just not being ashamed of this but taking pride in it – perhaps \’Big Brother Recyles\’ would be a way of getting the celebrity culture to promote this!

  5. Piper says:

    I think education is definitely key. Lots of people I know want to be more environmentally friendly in their approach to things but they are confused about what they can do. They think they\’ll have to spend out a fortune on solar panels & wind turbines to make a difference, when there are plenty of things they can do at home that won\’t cost them any money. I agree that people are resentful and suspicious enough of authority. Big Brother recycles is a great idea! The key is making it a \’normal\’ behaviour that everybody does.

  6. Bill says:

    I have so many clean glass jars & bottles which I cannot use, & I cannot give \’em away. Peanut butter with fust class nylon lids, pickled cabbage/beetroot with top class alu cick lids, large coffee with quality nylon lids. Now that I am moving home, ter live "No Fixed Abode", I cannot take \’em with me, therefore I have ter simply bin \’em down the chute, knowing that the council will not recycle.Such a wicked waste!I also have stacks of quality nylon cheese & Margarine tubs, also large yoghurt tubs, all 1 carefull owner. They would make fantastic plant pots fers window boxes, but the council do not allow such ideas. They could also be used fers patio or balcony gardening, I have not been allowed on my balcony, 10 floors up, fers at least a year.Alu deo & other spray cans, I always remove the nylon heads & guts, a total waste of effort, out of sheer green habit, from 17 years in exile. I used ter sell glass, nylon, alu, & newspaper by weight in Germany. We also had recycling bins/skips on every street corner in West Germany. Here the nearest is at least 3 miles, in a grossly overcrowded suburb, less than 5 miles from the Birmingham Bull Ring Centre.I did hope ter pickle & jam all me home grown, in the bottles & jars, but have not even been allowed a window box or any form of plant pot fers the past 15 years. I could grow most plants, salads, shrubs & bushes on a concrete yard, in simple raised beds etc. I would squat in any old MOD, or any other vacant/abandonded space if I could find such.I decided last month, that if I do not break free of this hell hole this spring, I never will. Last week I purchased a mobile home, with 2 wheels & a drawbar, & could possibly spend the rest of me life squatting on the M-Way services or similar. Much better neighbours than the existing bunch. Much quieter, much less air polution than I currently have, & me own front door, at ground level. I could possibly build a garden on a 2nd, (750 kilo gross) trailer.It reminds me that many pre-war, even post-war, schools & prisons, even hospitals, had large gardens, even small farms. I originate from the back-street slums, therefore I never had such luxury. My father did have a large council family allotment, back in the 50\’s & 60\’s. It is now an estate of single story, warden controlled, fers senior citizens.Such a waste!I also see all me own skills & talent just running ter waste, as the home office have not allowed me any form of gainful employment in the past 10 years. It is possible that I will find some part-time cash-in-hand out in the rural areas, & I will still volunteer fers some charity work, under a false name. It is possible that I will lose me small measure of benefit, as I dissappear without trace. It is possible that some punters could pay me in kind, with free pink diesel, leccy, & water. Some could pay me with fresh fruit & veg, even the odd free range pig or poultry. I have slaughtered, skinned & dressed all manner of "road/fox kills" over 30 years ago, fers a cut of the "recycling". I used ter slaughter & dress fers offal, & the skins were mine. I used ter cut fers £5, a full weeks pay back then. I also used ter bone & roll fers a further £5/carcase. They were all "road/fox kills", on the state insurance.I would also go back ter the odd boneyard shift at the post office, or any other transport firm, strictly nocturnal. All under a false name, there are no random stops on trucks by night, the \’elfandsafety crew only work 9 -5, x 5 days. They never stop the post office, M-Way maintenance, booze, garbage, ADR (hazchem), or sewage. I agree with most others on here, education is the golden key, the solution to almost every problem. We can never be too skilled, or have too many of \’em. Even if we are unable ter consume our education/skills legaly, we can still consume \’em "otherwise". All we need is a clean conscience.

  7. Bill says:

    p.s.piper darling, I have seen a heap of propaganda somewhere on various state grants fers solar panels & wind turbines, but the planning system is possibly far too restrictive.

  8. cyril says:

    According to the stats for the war years and a few years after when rationing was still on, heart disease hit a 42% low, I remember one egg per head per week, anyone else have long memories, oh ration day for us was monday you got all your groceries, that was it till the following monday, for all who had that designated day, it was staggered. Im 73, no colesterol, no heart problems, blood pressure, and up till I was 70 I worked 14 hours a day on my farm in Australia, I was born and bred in Nottinghamshire. So it did me good.

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