Household activity accounts for a large part of the total carbon emissions produced in Canada. A household’s ‘carbon footprint’ can be measured according to the greenhouse gas emissions produced from home energy, water, transportation, waste generated, and foods consumed.
The main objectives of this research were:
- to assemble data regarding the starting points and potential reductions in carbon footprints among residents of several Ottawa neighbourhoods; and
- to examine the potential for a community-based social marketing (CBSM) approach to reduce household carbon footprints in these neighbourhoods.
An established carbon footprint calculator was used to measure study participants’ footprints at the start and end of a one year period. With help from community group leaders in each of the study neighbourhoods, 50 participating households were provided over the year with information and incentives to reduce their footprints through email tips, community forums, and access to local reduction initiatives.
Footprint values were calculated from four components: a ‘Home’ component (heating energy, electricity, and household waste), a ‘Personal Travel’ component (air travel, vehicle and public transit use), a ‘Food’ component, and a ‘Work’ component (travel and paper use during a participant’s work day). In most cases the Work component was excluded from the analyses in order to focus on household environmental impacts.
Among footprint components, in almost all categories the average footprint value among participants decreased over the monitoring period. The most pronounced reduction occurred in the heating category (23%). Air travel was the only component that gained in value over the previous year (80%), which offset significant emissions decreases made in other component categories.
Many of the household reduction tips (e.g. recycling and reducing water use on lawns) had already been undertaken by residents prior to their participation in the study. The tips most commonly implemented during the monitoring year were often simple measures such as eating less meat, adjusting thermostats, and replacing furnace filters. The most common factors preventing the implementation of tips were cost and the time involved in carrying out these measures.
The majority of participants who completed the study reacted favourably, if in a somewhat tempered manner, to the community-based social marketing process. The most effective incentives for study participation were environmental benefits, increased knowledge of environmental issues, and reduced utility bills. The potential for friendly competition with other households and neighbourhoods, as well as the ability to contribute to neighbourhood goals were not as significant in motivating participants.