A few years ago, I joined the Green Team at work. We met as a group only bi-monthly, but as individuals, we acted as full-time eco ambassadors in our departments, encouraging and promoting environmentally friendly behaviour and communicating new green initiatives being implemented company-wide. It was a fun and rewarding volunteer role that added some excitement to my job.
I remember feeling pretty inspired when we were given a set of bright, colourful stickers meant to be placed beneath or beside light switches to remind everyone not to leave the lights on in empty rooms. My pet peeves: the private bathrooms (one door, one toilet, one sink, and no shared space - therefore, no need to leave the light on for anyone else) and the mail room / photocopy room. These are rooms that everyone uses multiple times a day but never for longer than a few minutes, with long periods of time passing between uses.
Within a few months of placing the stickers and consistently turning the lights off, people started getting the picture and flicking the light switch back into the off position when they left the rooms. Success! But it's not the stickers alone that did the trick, because at my current workplace, similar reminders have been placed beneath the light switches in the lunch room / photocopy room, and nobody seems to pay attention. Granted, I've only just begun to set the example, and I shouldn't expect anyone to catch on without direct intervention. But it's hard to engage others in conversation around this issue when I overhear people saying things like, "what's going on in here with all the lights off, are we trying to conserve or something?", as though only an energy shortage should encourage us to turn lights off in rooms that aren't in use. Sigh.
The kicker is that unlike the mail room at my old workplace, the lunch room at my current job has three sets of south-facing windows, but nobody bothers to open the curtains in the morning because flicking a switch takes less effort. It's infuriating, because with the curtains pulled back, there is plenty of light! Now, you're probably wondering why I'm making a big fuss over a small issue like this, especially when I'm usually disillusioned when people make small changes that won't amount to much anyway. Well, in this case I'm worried because I'm theorizing a worst-case scenario: not caring to conserve electricity by turning off lights probably goes hand-in-hand with cranking the heat at home over the winter, using a car to get around on a daily basis, and lots of other wasteful behaviours that contribute to the mess we're in. After all, if you can't be bothered to engage in the simple act of turning off the lights, there's no way you have any interest in making changes that demand greater commitment and effort!
So the question is, is it even worth trying to encourage change in people who seem resistant to it?
Photo of light switch used under Creative Commons from Mike (anotherpioneer/flickr).
Photo of window used under Creative Commons from Simon Tong.