Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Share via:


A shift to a green economy will require changes in behaviours and values all the way down to the individual. Here's how we get started!


Executive summary

The transition to a green economy is one that will require extensive changes in the attitudes of consumers around the world. This proposal suggests that targeting the everyday behaviours of individuals to achieve significant reductions in energy consumption is a necessary first-step to achieving broader shifts towards a green economy. The proposal focuses its attention on the users of residences, institutions, offices, and research facilities, implementing a previously piloted program to alter their everyday habits towards energy conservation. The design of these campaigns will move beyond token actions alone however, and will instead leverage these small changes into widespread cultural change. In academic studies, such changes in the way people interact with their residential surroundings have been credited with reducing household energy consumption by between 20 and 30 percent. By expanding this model to other types of locations, we hope to reduce behaviour-mediated energy use in a variety of sectors, while further suggesting that these will reinforce one another to lead to greener lifestyles.

What is even more promising is that these campaigns, which emphasize taking shorter showers, changing the way individuals use lighting, and hanging up clothes to dry, among other things, can have an amplified impact by influencing the adoption of new technologies and policies by participants. If a holistic behavioural change approach is implemented that focuses on changing values as well as these behaviours,  the proliferation of other environmental choices and the uptake of green technology become possible.


University of Toronto 

Beth Savan, PhD, MCIP

Beth has advised and consulted widely on a range of sustainability-related issues over the past three decades.  She has designed and delivered sustainability training programs, sustainability and strategic planning exercises and sustainability programs and interventions. In particular, she was contracted to carry out sustainability planning and program implementation by Toronto Hydro and the University Health Network strategic planning for sustainability at a Toronto NGO, and sub-contracted to work on sustainability planning in the Town of Collingwood, the federal government, and the town of Sudbury, sustainability training for facilities managers, employee engagement to promote sustainability at the University Health Network and water conservation to avert water system failure for the City of Toronto, targeting demand side management using community based social marketing.

Beth Savan is the inaugural Sustainability Director at the St. George Campus, University of Toronto, where she has been responsible for establishing the Sustainability Office and managing its staff, for engaging over one hundred students a year in sustainability activities on campus, and for overseeing energy and resource conservation programs. For seven years, Beth directed the Environmental Studies Programme at Innis College, University of Toronto. She has served as Research Director and Undergraduate Coordinator for the Centre for Environment and is a Senior Fellow at Massey College. During her tenure as Sustainability Director, Beth launched and has managed a community based social marketing program on resource conservation which has grown to encompass almost all residences and a growing number of offices on campus, with a library module in development. This program has been successful at changing attitudes, behaviours and energy and resource consumption, and is being used as a template for similar programs at the University Health Network and Toronto Hydro.

Beth obtained her Ph.D. in insect ecology from the Imperial College of Science and Technology at the University of London (England), and has received numerous large research grants, most recently to work on energy conservation on campus, on community sustainability locally, on climate change internationally, and on barriers and factors facilitating Community Based Research in Canada. Beth was the 2010 recipient of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Commission’s Excellence in Education Award.

Zannah Matson, HBA

Zannah is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a major in Environment and Society and a minor in Urban Studies. Her senior independent research focused on measuring the persistence of environmental behaviours after initial. She has been a research assistant with the Centre for Environment for over a year and has worked on program design and research for the further development of campaigns for increased emissions reductions. She has held the position of president of the largest environmental campus group, the University of Toronto Environmental Resource Network, and served as the Co-commissioner for the University of Toronto Students’ Union Sustainability Commission. She partnered with University of Toronto Student Life to create a Sustainability Leadership Program that was aimed at tangibly developing the skills of students engaged in environmental work both on and off campus. Zannah is the 2011 recipient of the John H. Moss Scholarship, along with the student Green Ribbon Award for outstanding work towards sustainability on campus.


Ellie Farahani, PhD, MBA

Ellie is the CEO of Safara Sustainability Solutions, and is expert in sustainability training, planning and implementation. Most recently, she acted as consultant for the development of Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District’s Energy Management Plan and as leader in the design and development of Toronto Hydro’s Sustainability and Energy Management Plan.

Ellie obtained her Ph.D. in Experimental Atmospheric Physics from the Department of Physics, University of Toronto (Canada) and her M.B.A. from Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (U.S.A.) and Schulich School of Business, York University (Canada). She has received numerous awards and scholarships.


The transition to a green economy is one that will require extensive changes in the attitudes of consumers around the world. Altering people’s attitudes and ultimately the way that they act is not as simple as providing them with the information about climate change or emissions figures, as shocking as they may be. Contemporary social psychology research suggests that attempts to alter people’s behaviour needs to incorporate holistic elements to encourage change. This proposal suggests that targeting the everyday behaviours of individuals to achieve significant reductions in energy consumption is a necessary first-step to achieving broader shifts towards a green economy. The design of these campaigns will move beyond token actions alone however, and will instead leverage these small changes into widespread cultural change.

RewirePlus will provide effective behaviour-based strategies to organizations looking to reduce their energy consumption. Drawing from contemporary research into the most effective strategies to engage individuals and social networks to maximize mobilization around energy efficient behaviour, the applicants will compile and promote effective strategies for residences, offices, and other commercial and industrial applications. The goal of RewirePlus is to create a flexible package of strategies that have not previously been commercialized, but which can be implemented within these varied contexts for targeted emissions reductions. 

This program will achieve significant, tangible reductions in climate emissions through the specific targeting of:

·      Residential sites that can lead to a change in energy-use behaviours such as lighting use, shower length, and laundry habits

·      Office sites and the associated behaviours such as computer use, paper use, and disposable lunch containers

·      Other workplace environments can be altered through the establishment of a Green Ambassadors program that leverages social networks to encourage context-specific energy-saving behaviours

·      Large organizations can be engaged through a program of Sustainability Planning, an interactive and client driven process that is capable of building enthusiasm tangible and easily accomplished wins to increasingly significant and challenging changes. In pilots of this program, initial institutional support for increased bike parking has lead to increased support and for sustainable initiatives, culminating most recently in a large-scale lighting retrofit

·      Laboratories through Green Labs programs that focus on shutting fume hood sashes when not in use, lighting use, waste disposal, and water use 

The changes that are achieved at an individual and institutional level through this type of behaviour change strategy will be necessary for the broader cultural change that is required in the face of climate change. It is plainly evident that in order to arrest of even reverse our current climate trajectory, we will need to make dramatic reductions in the amount of carbon that is sued around the world. Even in a case where a new green economy can be constructed on the basis of renewable energy, an overall reduction in consumption will be required to meet global energy with available and emerging technology. This proposal therefore helps in two distinct capacities: to reduce consumption immediately, and to encourage sustainability culture to aid in the adoption of increasingly progressive policies and technology. If these changes can be extended to the international context, it is our hope that a energy conscious behvaiours and values can become the norm the world over, easing the transition to a green economy for nations and individuals at all stages of economic development.

Why: Rationale for the proposal

At the core of RewirePlus there are three essential objectives: The reduction of emissions, significant financial savings for participating businesses and organizations, and achieving a deeper cultural evolution towards sustainability. The achievement of these three goals is an interrelated process, as reducing consumption levels and the associated financial benefits this provides are initial incentives to adopt these strategies. After initial uptake, effective interventions will ensure the persistence of these behaviours and savings and will encourage a proliferation of additional changes for emissions reductions. 

This initiative is grounded in the extensive research and pilot programs that have been conducted at the University of Toronto. Although successful in the localized context of the University context, RewirePlus will polish and perfect these strategies for their application to the private sector and a variety of other contexts to make the program viable for a broader-scale roll-out.

How: Feasibility of proposal

This proposal is feasible because ability to be popularized within the current economic structure, as it then works for a shift in behaviours, attitudes, and culture. The viability of RewirePlus lies in its suitability for scale-up and adaptation to ensure relevance for institutions and corporations of all sizes and functions. As a business model, The involved organizations will provide the services outlined in the RewirePlus program to both private and public sector organizations seeking to reduce their emissions footprint and energy costs with effective and persistent reduction strategies. Participants have extensive experience in providing this type of services to institutions, ensuring that the project will be successful into the future. Safara has previously extended its services to both the University Health Network and Toronto Hydro, to encourage the proliferation of behaviour change within these contexts. In these and corporate contexts, Safara demonstrated its versatility at delivering consultation for behaviour-based emissions reductions programs. The University of Toronto has been researching these strategies for a number of years to increase the efficacy of behaviour-based intterventions. This combined experience speaks to the organizations’ capacity to effectively tailor the RewirePlus strategies to diverse opportunities. In the future, these initial consult opportunities could be extended to larger scale real estate management both in the residential and condominium sector, as well as to offices and industry. 

As has been demonstrated by research and pilot initiatives in this field, not only are there considerable reductions in energy consumption from the behavioural changes outlined in this proposal, these reductions can be further leveraged to create a culture of sustainability. The uptake of new green energy technology will require its adoption by individuals, a process that will only be possible when they are supportive of the essential values at the core of this greater cultural change. Through targeting behaviour change in this holistic way, RewirePlus will be able to shift both the behvaiours and values that are needed to make a favorable environment for the creation and adoption of green technology.

Vision of the future under this proposal

This image demonstrates the importance of achieving fundamental cultural change in the process of developing a green economy. At its centre are the fields of study that will help us move forward in designing products for a green economy and green energy, around the edge are some of the challenges that must be overcome and some of the opportunities there are to accomplish this shift. The entire image is governed by the cultural change that is required to support these opportunities and encourage the various sectors to advance research and technology in these areas.