Effectiveness of The EcoTeam Program in the Netherlands: A Long Term View

Paul Harland & Henk Staats

(Leiden University - Centre for Energy and Environmental Research - Department of Social and Organizational Psychology)

Introduction

Global Action Plan for the Earth is an international environmental organization that distributes the EcoTeam Program, a program to improve ecologically relevant behavior within households. The EcoTeam Program is aimed at behavioral change. It consists of three parts: The EcoTeam, behavioral information, and a quantitative feedback system.

This contribution presents the results of the research-project that evaluated the short-term and long-term effectiveness of the EcoTeam Program in the Netherlands (Staats & Harland, 1995; Harland & Staats, 1997). The project was executed from 1994 until 1997 by the Centre for Energy and Environmental Research from Leiden University (department of Social and Organizational Psychology). This contribution concentrates on the long term results of the program and shortly addresses the following subjects: (1) The organization of the EcoTeam Program, (2) research design, (3) the long term effectiveness of the EcoTeam Program.

Research design

The following questions from the larger research project are addressed in this contribution: (1) To what extent do results concerning environmentally relevant household behavior and investments, that were found shortly after participation in the EcoTeam Program, persist two years after participation, and (2) to what extent do changes in the household environmental burden, that were found shortly after participation persist?

All people who were ready to start the EcoTeam Program in January or February 1994 received a request to participate in the research. A total of 60 EcoTeams was involved. All questionnaires which were used in the project included three sources of information (1) almost all 100 environmentally relevant household behaviors and investments that were included in the EcoTeam Program (e. g. turning off the faucet (tap) while brushing one's teeth, use of the stand-by function of the television, and installation of energy-saving light bulbs), (2) psychological backgrounds of behavior, (3) data concerning the amount of solid household waste, and the amounts of natural gas, water and electricity that was used over a period of two weeks by participating households.

In October 1994, participants were approached for a second time to complete the questionnaires (first post-test). One hundred and fifty ex-participants who co-operated with the pre- and post-test, also participated in the long term post-test in the winter of 1996/1997. Systematic dropout was tested by means of five key variables (sex, age, education, income and environmental involvement), but was not observed.

Long term effectiveness of the EcoTeam Program

Research on long term effects of intervention techniques is scarce. The few studies into the persistence of short term effects have concluded that achieved improvements on environmentally behavior tend to diminish on the longer run. An urgent need exists for intervention techniques that produce lasting changes (De Young, 1993; Dwyer, Leeming, Cobern, Porter, & Jackson, 1993). Will the EcoTeam Program be a suitable candidate?

Effects on environmentally relevant behavior and investments

The short term effects of the EcoTeam Program were positive. Directly after they had finished the EcoTeam Program, participants had changed approximately half of the environmentally relevant household behaviors and investments that are addressed in the EcoTeam Workbook. In addition, participation led to considerable reductions in the quantitative savings of environmental resources. What happened with the effects that were obtained directly after participation in the EcoTeam Program? In order to measure behavioral persistence, performance of 26 behaviors and investments which had shown an improvement shortly after participation was compared with performance two years after participation. Additionally, 20 behaviors and investments which had not changed shortly after participation, were included to observe what happened with those behaviors and investments after the program had ended.

Results on the long term

The results in Table 1 show that two years after participation, 19 of 26 behaviors and investments remained improved while seven behaviors and investments have improved even further. Four of the 20 behaviors and investments that were not changed shortly after participation appear to have improved autonomously, i. e. after participation.

Table 1: Long term view of 26 environmentally relevant household behaviors and investments that have improved, and 20 behaviors and investments that have not improved shortly after participation in the EcoTeam Program (N=150).

 

Shortly after participation

Two years after participation

26 improved behaviors & investments

19 behaviors & investments remained improved

7 behaviors & investments improved further

20 unchanged behaviors & investments

16 behaviors & investments remained unchanged

4 behaviors & investments improved autonomously

 

Effects on quantitative environmental resources

Improvement of pro-environmental behavior is a valuable result of the EcoTeam Program. Nevertheless, the ultimate results of the program should be expressed in parameters that reflect the environmental resources that are saved as directly as possible. The parameters used in this study are the consumption of gas, electricity and water and the production of waste. Quantitative data on these four themes are compared with the data before, directly after and two years after participation (Table 2). 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.

 


 

Table 2: A comparison of environmental resources as used before, shortly after and two years after participation in the EcoTeam Program (ETP).

 

 

Consumption prior to ETP

Consumption shortly after participation

Consumption 2 years after ETP

N

Waste (kilograms p.p. per day)

.216 (.15)

.153 (.12) = - 29%**

.145 (.12) = - 32%**

37

Natural gas (M3 p.p. per week)

.299 (.21)

.237 (.18) = - 21%***

.248 (.18) = - 17%***

77

Electricity (kwh p.p. per week)

27.2 (15.4)

25.9 (15.6) = - 5%ns

25.1 (14.3) = - 8%*

83

Water (M3 p.p. per week)

.854 (.38)

.830 (.38) = - 3%ns

.796 (.33) = - 7%*

75

Note: *=p<.05, **=p<.01, ***=p<.001, ns = non significant change.

 

The data indicate that shortly after participation savings have been achieved on household waste and natural gas, while the savings on electricity and water were not statistically significant and must be assumed unchanged for this group of respondents. On the longer run however, it appears that improvements have been achieved in all four domains. The conclusion of this section is that EcoTeam participants have persisted in reducing their consumption of environmental resources. The effects of their efforts, reflected in the behavioral data, are largely maintained and have for some themes increased even long after participation.

Concluding remarks

In this study the following short term effects of the EcoTeam Program were tested on their durability: Improved environmentally relevant behavior, intensified environmental investments in the household, and quantitative savings on environmental resources. The conclusion about the long term effectiveness of the EcoTeam Program is clear: Effects that were obtained just after the EcoTeam Program was completed have been maintained up to two years after the intervention has ended.

From the analyses of psychological backgrounds (see footnote 2 on page 1), it appeared that perceived behavioral control and habit, two components that have become stronger during participation in the EcoTeam Program, are factors that promote the use of more environmentally friendly transportation means.

Up till now only a limited number of people (approximately 8000) have participated in the Dutch EcoTeam Program. To make use of the effectiveness of the EcoTeam Program, future development of the program should be aimed at enhancement of participation. One way to stimulate enrolment in the program might be lowering the threshold for participation. Ways to lower the program's participation threshold might be a fruitful subject for discussion.

References

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.

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 behavior and its psychological backgrounds. Summary report. Leiden: Centre for Energy and Environmental Research, Leiden University. E&M/R-95-57.

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. Leiden: Centre for Energy and Environmental Research, Leiden University. E&M/R-95-57.