January 5, 2012No Comments

Campaign Case Study: 
Waste Watch

This third Campaign Case Study is part of a series of stories sharing the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“How do we actually know what’s working?”

Waste Watch inspires and helps people to live more whilst wasting less.  Set up 24 years ago, it put recycling on the national agenda and led the country towards today’s improved waste policies. With 40 staff, it recently merged with Keep Britain Tidy. The team at Waste Watch have put values-thinking into the heart of the work they do, moving the idea of sustainability from windmills and recycling to a wider question of collective wellbeing and social justice. The video below gives a good sense of how they work with schools, businesses and communities.

I spoke to Tim Burns, Head of Waste Watch, and Morgan Phillips, who works on the Our Common Place project, about how redefining their work has allowed them to break free from a constraining focus, and how measuring broader impacts has improved the way they work.

What did they set out to do differently?

The team used to spend a lot of time making interventions, delivering a project and then walking away. Short-term funding projects meant that they’d run a campaign to share best practice, monitor the outputs and immediate environmental impacts without getting a good idea of what was really changing at a deeper level within the community.

Now, Waste Watch is measuring outcomes, rather than just outputs. This means monitoring the impact on the beneficiaries engaged in their projects as well as the wider community by looking at the;

  • Confidence and skills of the participants
  • Sense of connection between volunteers and their community
  • What cross-barrier relationships have been built

Practically speaking, by collecting this data, Waste Watch now has an evidence base from which to apply for new sources of funding. They’re connecting the dots between the environment, mental health and community development – and widening their scope to have maximum impact.

What does that look like in practice?

The Our Common Place project is bringing this values-thinking into the heart of Waste Watch’s work. Engaging with residents living in large blocks of flats across 23 communities in London, Morgan and his team are following the enthusiasm of the residents in deciding what projects they work on. In one case, sewing classes have been set up, in another, a ‘help your neighbour recycle’ scheme. One of the most surprising projects is working with a youth club to look at how sustainability flows through everyday life, in one session young people analysed their favourite song lyrics to see what values they espouse. Morgan explains,

“We found that the best way to start talking about what’s important to people, their values, is to start where people’s interests lie. We’re trying to allow for self-direction in how we work with local communities.”

Nobody in the sector has cracked how to create successful recycling schemes in deprived housing estates, so there is a need for innovative approaches. Morgan will be sharing the results in the summer later this year. A key ingredient to the success so far has been working with local authority partners, in some cases leading workshops on the thinking that the Common Cause report puts forward.

What have they learned?

Leadership on this new approach has come from every corner of the organisation. They’ve found that in order to start to articulate values-thinking in their external work, the Waste Watch team had to first start to transform the way they work internally. This started with a much more inclusive approach to leadership where ideas and contributions came from everyone, as Tim explains,

“At Waste Watch now, everyone has been contributing to our new strategic direction, for example through our business plan or our approach towards change – and as a result there’s a much more inclusive culture. Its not just formally but informally too - there’s a lot of sharing lunchtimes, baking cakes for each other – we’re actually building a community within the office as well as within our projects based upon the values we all live and work by.”

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

There is much to be learnt from how Waste Watch are applying an understanding of values in their work. Other case studies have picked up on the important implications for the culture of an organisation, and this is clearly something to which Waste Watch are responding. What is most exciting perhaps, is how values-thinking is infusing their project work, and opening up possibilities for new alliances with different sectors and organisations.

Importantly, the team understands that intrinsic values are already important in the lives of their audience - the question is how to engage with them, not to tell people how to live. Discussions about 'sustainability' aren't likely to be the best starting point.


Tim Burns


020 7549 0300

March 9, 2009No Comments

The Carbon Detox: How far will materialism get us?

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

I spent Saturday at a meeting on the psychological and political challenge of facing climate change at UWE.

George Marshall delivered the opening lecture – in witty and thought-provoking style. He guided us through the evidence for the deployment of ‘emotional management strategies’ or ‘psychological coping mechanisms’ that people use when confronted with a threat that they can’t actually physically remove: the most obvious of these strategies, perhaps, is retreat into denial.

I was impressed enough to buy his book, Carbon Detox, at the coffee break – and I read it that same evening. There’s so much here that is commendable – his no-holds-barred dismissal of ‘simple and painless’ steps as a response to climate change (someone at the meeting suggested that the advocacy of small steps is perhaps itself a form of denial), and his insistence that if we are to begin to engage the problem of climate change, then we’d better first recognise the ways in which all of us – environmentalists and Michael O’Leary alike – deploy these emotional management strategies.

George’s response to the problem he frames is the best attempt to use the techniques of the marketer to motivate behavioural change that I have seen. In his book, he draws on the work of Chris Rose and Pat Dade to segment the population into four personality types, and then sets about showing how to appeal to each of these identities in order to motivate behavioural change.

Unfortunately, precisely because George is more interested in persuading people to stop flying than to stop leaving their phone charger plugged in, the limitations of this approach seem all the more stark. The problem is that many of these approaches, as applied to today’s most enthusiastic consumers (the all-important ‘Winners’) don’t seem very compelling.

In his book, George suggests that when you embrace the ‘carbon detox’, you “are sending out a strong message to the world: ‘I am smart, modern and living in the 21st century’.” (p.48) But as we know, this isn’t yet an aspirational message for most people. He warns Winners that “[p]eople may stop seeing your lifestyle as smart and sexy and start to see it as something sad and ugly” (p.48). But if I was a Winner, I think I’d look for the evidence amongst my friends, and in the media, and feel that there was little danger of this situation arising any time soon. If and when it does, I’ll change then, thanks.

George goes on “[p]eople who are alert to the new opportunities presented by climate change could do very well. After all, once you know about climate change it is like being given an insider tip on the options for the future, and there are fame and fortune for the people who listen to that tip” (p.48). Well, as a Winner, I’d be all for fame and fortune. I accept, of course, that more far-sighted entrepreneurs will factor climate change and peak oil into their business plans. But the famous and the rich don’t often seem to give a damn about climate change. And those that do have often had to contort themselves to feel good about the money they are making (consider lucrative carbon offset or biofuels businesses for example).

The contrast between George’s talk and those that followed arose because others acknowledged that at the root of the problem we face is the dominance of a particular set of societal values. As Paul Hoggert and Mary-Jayne Rust both argued, until we begin to tackle these values, it is difficult to foresee any systemic response to climate change emerging.

I've been working with Tim Kasser at Knox College, Illinois recently. Tim has collated a very substantial body of empirical evidence which shows that more materialistic people have higher foot prints (as you'd expect - they strive to consume more), but they are also more antagonistic to pro-environmental behaviour and policies per se. Tim argues that it is perfectly possible to engage these values - and he has developed a series of proposals on how to begin to do so. Of course, none of this is to deny the importance of social norms in driving change. It is rather to ask: what social norms will we ultimately need, and how can they best be shaped?

We need critical re-appraisals of the current reliance upon simple and painless steps, and public debate about our deployment of emotional management strategies. And for its crucial role in helping in this, we should be grateful for George's clear thinking. But we will not shoe-horn the pursuit of self-interest into creating the motivation that is needed to properly engage the problem of climate change.

Appealing to materialistic values is simply not a credible response to the scale of the challenge we confront.

October 29, 20083 Comments

The ideology of simple painless steps

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

I've spent the last two days at a conference for environmental communicators, Communicate 08. There was a recurrent issue which ran through the whole conference - about the strategies that the environment movement deploys to create change.

We heard disparate inputs from (on the one hand) Tesco's ('Every Little Helps' - let's focus on successes in cutting carrier bag use, rather than the problem of consumerism) to Renee Lertzman's suggestion that public 'apathy' may be an emotional coping strategy which we deploy when confronted with the environmental problems we face.

Some of the discussion focussed on the evidence from social-psychology. There is little empirical evidence for the effectiveness of 'foot-in-the-door' approaches, as applied to more difficult environmental behaviours. (Foot-in-the-door is the idea that, by starting people off on simple painless steps like using fewer carrier bags, we will lead them up a virtuous escalator towards more ambitious and significant bahavioural changes. The evidence for this - at best thin - is reviewed in WWF's report Weathercocks and Signposts).

There was also some discussion of the inherent antagonism between materialistic values and pro-environmental attitudes and behaviour, which has also been revealed by empirical studies. This should lead us to recognise the problems inherent to consumptive approaches to addressing environmental problems (the prescription that we should consume more CFLs, hybrid cars etc.). The green consumerism approach was written large by an exercise Pat Dade ran that encouraged participants to design desirable bathroom furniture for status-driven people. Learn how to change someone's buying behaviour, the message ran, and you have learned how to motivate them to make the necessary pro-environmental choices.

As the conference ran on, I realised that empirical arguments based on social psychological research are never going to hold sway over green consumerism and the 'simple and painless steps' approach: simply because they don't fit ideologically. The enthusiasm of companies like Tesco's, and of government, for these approaches fits with the dominant ideology of decoupling economic growth and environmental impact. For this reason, it will take more than empirical studies in the social sciences to dislodge the dominance of this perspective.

Empirically-based arguments from social psychology may not displace these approaches, but they may at least help to expose them as being driven more by ideology than empirical evidence.

That in itself is perhaps helpful: particularly in a context where those of us critical of green consumerism are so often portrayed ourselves as being motivated more by ideology than by a pragmatic assessment of what is needed to get us out of the hole we are all in.

October 6, 2008No Comments

Recycling for free flights

Recycling for free flights

A couple from Hampshire cash in on Tesco's offer to provide free air-miles in exchange for recycling: a particularly vivid example of rebound, when the use of the financial rewards from doing something 'green' totally undermines any environmental benefits of this. The irony is lost on the author of this piece in the Daily Telegraph, who fails to make any mention of the contradictions: further illustration, it seems, of the way that green consumerism frustrates the emergence of the systemic changes that are needed.
This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

May 6, 20082 Comments

Do The Green Thing gets real

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

Do The Green Thing has long been urging subscribers to take the lift rather than the stairs, or to turn the lights off early every so often. All good stuff; but nothing that is going to help us begin to scrutinise the primary drivers of unsustainable behaviour. This month, though, Do The Green Thing has dipped a toe into engaging the motivations that drive our unsustainable consumption.

Step inside the upgrade circle and let it mess with your brain.

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

handmade by