A unified, national social media campaign tracking individual pledges to reduce emissions and providing personal and collective feedback.
Have you ever wanted to take action to reduce your carbon footprint, but didn’t because you knew it would not matter unless others did the same? Have you ever thought about carpooling, but decided it was too difficult to do every day? Have you ever told yourself you were going to make a change, but stopped after a few days because you lost motivation? If so, then The Pledge is for you.
The Pledge will be a nationwide effort advertised through social media to encourage people to reduce their CO2 emissions in various ways. Users can reduce their emissions with smaller daily changes that can range from carpooling more frequently, taking shorter showers, or purchasing more energy efficient appliances. Participants complete a survey where they learn about their daily emissions and then pledge actions to reduce their carbon footprint. Users can choose how they want to reduce their footprint, empowering them with flexibility to pledge changes that are impactful, but also feasible. An emissions calculator will be available to determine how effective each action can be.
The Pledge has many benefits. The first is the power of collective action. Many are reluctant to combat climate change because they feel their singular efforts cannot reduce carbon emissions in a substantial way. With The Pledge, people can see how many users have pledged to reduce emissions, as well as the collective emissions all users have pledged to reduce. The Pledge also leverages the value of partial efforts. Many people have an all-or-none mentality. If something seems too big to do in its entirety, they are intimidated to attempt it at all. With The Pledge, people can commit to partial efforts that will be effective, but won’t completely disrupt an individual’s life. The final benefit is the power of a pledge as a motivator. Plenty of climate change films motivate people for a day, but over time that inspiration fades. With The Pledge, people will be motivated to stick with the efforts they agreed to.
What actions do you propose?
1) Create a comprehensive list of ways individuals can reduce emissions: Our team has created a preliminary list of actions individuals can take to reduce their emissions. This list should be expanded through consulting with others in the Climate CoLab, as the more comprehensive the list is, the more effective the campaign will be.
The goal for the first year is 1% reduction in US emissions. If 10 million people carried out each action on The Pledge to the extent listed above, this goal would be reached. Of course, each person will have the ability to increase or decrease the extent of each action, but the example indicates that a 1% or greater reduction in US emissions is feasible with The Pledge.
2) Create Motivational Video: Studies show that people are more motivated by videos than by text-based persuasion (ref.2, 36). The video will be directed towards potential users who already believe in climate change. The goal of the video will be to show users simple actions they can do to reduce emissions, as well as remind people what the consequences are if no action is taken to combat global warming. To increase the likelihood that viewers finish the video and make an account, the video will be short (3-4 minutes). The app and website will have a link to easily share the video on social media.
3) Website and App Development: To reach a wider range of users, there will be both a website and an app for individuals to fill out and track their pledges. The interface will have multiple sections:
- Survey: Studies show that a crucial aspect for campaign success is simplicity (ref. 38, 39). Although there will be upwards of 25 steps people can take to reduce their emissions, we do not want to overwhelm the user with all the questions immediately when they download the app. Instead, they will first be prompted to create a username, and then answer a few questions about their current lifestyle (zip code, model of car), as well as a question about what area they would like to start working on first (transportation, eating habits, etc.). Then, they will be prompted with 2-3 questions about habits they could change. An important part of The Pledge is that individuals can choose to what extent they want to do each action. For example, it might be difficult for a participant to pledge to carpool every day. When filling out the survey, they can pledge to carpool two days a week, which reduces their personal emissions, but allows them the flexibility to continue their daily schedule. After the initial questions have been filled out, they will have the option to continue with more, or exit the survey. If they exit the survey at that time, they will receive a daily reminder to complete the survey. On the side of the survey page there will be an emissions calculator showing the user’s total pledged emissions reduction, as well as the reduction for the particular question they are on. Participants will also have the option to guess how much of an impact each action has on the environment, and can compare that to how it actually affects the environment. This would be beneficial for targeting and emphasizing the actions that have the largest carbon footprint respective to what people think. It also incorporates gamification, which has proven to be popular among a broad audience (ref. 47).
Automatic Tracking: To encourage users’ continued commitment to The Pledge, it will be beneficial for there to be numerical evidence that their efforts are paying off. We have spoken with Mint.com (free budgeting app), whose platform is setup to sort a user’s purchases into categories, including “Utilities” and “Gas & Fuel”(ref. 40). We would like to partner with Mint so that anyone who is a Mint user will be able to see their monthly spending on Gas and Utilities on the App. Not only will this show the user their efforts are working, but it will also highlight the financial incentive to reduce their energy. Using state average electricity and gasoline prices, we will be able to project the emissions reductions for each home/ individual who previously had a Mint Account, because we will be able to compare their current usage to their usage before they took The Pledge. Those who create a Mint account for The Pledge will still have the ability to manually input their previous average monthly spending to calculate their emissions savings.
Manual Tracking: Not all actions will be indicated in spending habits. Therefore, there will be a feature on the app for the user to enter their own actions. They will be able to record every day they don’t eat meat, every time they hang dry a load of clothes, etc. The App will also alert people to ask if they have completed their pledged actions and will send reminders, such as checking tire pressure monthly.
Competition: To encourage people to keep up with The Pledge, and to do as many actions as they can, users will be assigned levels. Levels will be based on how many actions, as well as to what extent, people are taking to reduce their emissions. The levels will have icons, and each icon will be associated with a positive effect of emissions reduction. Icons could include a polar bear to represent the preservation of glaciers, or food to represent famines being prevented. Examples are shown below. In addition to incorporating gamification, the levels will have the benefit of educating or reminding people about why we care about global warming(ref. 50). Another purpose of the levels is to encourage people who were already doing a great job of reducing their emissions before The Pledge, and thus cannot do as many additional actions. As an example, if a vegetarian takes The Pledge and comes to the question about how many additional meat free days they can do per month, they would have to answer zero. However, their level is not based on how many additional lbs of CO2 they pledged to reduce, but how many actions they do to reduce their daily emissions, so a vegetarian would start off with a high level. A user’s level can also raise or fall overtime, based on how many times they do each action. This should motivate people to not only keep up with what they have pledged to do, but in some cases will also inspire them to do extra.
Community: As previously mentioned, humans are socially inclined creatures, and want to do what others around them are doing. Therefore, there will be a “Community” feature that will allow people to join communities. Communities can be States, colleges, or self made groups. When part of a community, a user will see what percent of the community is at each level, as well as the total pledged emissions reductions for the community. This could be particularly useful for a college dorm or other communal living community, where an individual may work hard to save electricity but was previously unable to see the result of their efforts. There will also be an option for someone to manually add the monthly electricity bill for living communities, since they would be unlikely to have a Mint Account for a building.
4) Recruit People to Advertise: In order for The Pledge to be a success, it needs to go viral. This will be partially accomplished by having a large number of initial promoters to post The Pledge on a given day. College energy clubs will be an effective way to reach out to universities. There are many celebrities and public figures who advocate for reducing emissions. Having a famous individual post about The Pledge would be a very effective way to spread the word. The companies who sell the products we suggest people buy would benefit from the campaign going viral and could promote the campaign in addition to their products. We may even be able to get some companies to agree to a discount on their product if a certain number of people agree to buy it. Local governments could also be a great resource for promotion. San Diego has pledged to cut its GHG emissions in half by 2035, so they would be eager to support an initiative like The Pledge (ref. 32).
5) App Release and Pledging: To help The Pledge to go viral, initial promoters will follow a specific format so that other users will as well. They should follow the lead of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and tag 3 people with each share to help with exponential growth. Additionally, we would like each person to share why they are taking The Pledge, and what their first action will be. This part is beneficial because it is human nature to be social (ref. 36, 37, 38, 39) and humans enjoy being altruistic (ref. 39). Seeing others be personal about The Pledge will encourage more people to take the pledge both because they want to be part of the crowd, and because they want to feel good about contributing to a worthy cause. They can also post the motivational video, or a picture of themselves doing their first action.
6) Pledge Follow Through: Studies show that today, 64% of Americans believe climate change is a major threat, yet individual action is still lacking (ref. 1). To increase the likelihood that people will stick with the actions they pledged, we researched requirements for effective human behavior change. One trait that came up time and again was that people are social, want to show off socially, and want to do what is normal (ref. 36, 37, 38, 39). We will create a hashtag and have an extension on the app for people to post pictures to social media of them doing their pledged actions. Similar to the “I Voted” stickers given to voters on election day, posting pictures lets people know you are part of a group, and it encourages others to want to be part of the group (ref. 41).
Humans respond to positive reinforcement (ref. 43). Those who do at least 90% of their pledged actions each month will receive some sort of positive reinforcement on the app. Examples include a sticker of encouragement, a picture of an animal/child from the future who they are helping or an improvement in their “level”.
Studies show that having individuals make a concrete plan significantly increases the chance that they will follow through with an intended action (ref. 35). In the app, we will incorporate as much planning as we can for the individual. There will be an option for them to list the emails of those they wish to carpool with, so The Pledge can automatically send them an email when the user fills out the survey. To increase the likelihood of users purchasing products, we will have links to the products in the survey that allow a user to instantly add the product to a cart. We would like to have as many of the products as possible be available on Amazon, since many Americans already have Amazon accounts.
People also respond to emotional stimuli, particularly visual emotional stimuli (ref. 36, 39). On a monthly basis, we will email a short newsletter reminding people why they should care about global warming. They key part of this newsletter will be a cover page, either with a photograph or drawing, depicting what could happen if global warming is not addressed. We would also like to include a “Petition of the Month” on the newsletter. We realize simplicity is an integral part of a successful campaign, and we don’t want to stray too far from our main goal of getting people to change their habits. However, if successful, The Pledge will be a great platform for those who care about climate change to learn about petitions they can sign or policy they can support to continue the climate change fight.
One effective trait that will help people follow through with The Pledge is economic self-interest. When filling out the pledge, in addition to adding up the pounds of carbon saved, the calculator will also add up the estimated user cost savings. If a user has been effective for the first month or two and sees a noticeable reduction in their electricity or gasoline bills, they will now have both financial and environmental reasons to keep their energy consumption down.
Who will take these actions?
Comprehensive List of Energy Reduction Actions- The Pledge Team, and anyone from The Climate CoLab who would like to help.
Motivational Video- If no one from The Climate CoLab would like to produce a video, then The Pledge Team will hire a video crew and actors to create the film.
Website and Mobile Application- Outsourced to Gigster.com
Promoters/Advertisers- Student Energy Clubs at Universities and High Schools, Celebrities and Public Figures, Local Governments, Companies who sell the products we suggest, and energy and environmental groups who promote sustainability.
Taking The Pledge- Anyone in the US can and should take action. College students are very active on social media. Though they generally live in dorms and don't have as much control over major energy consumption decisions at their universities, students could motivate their families to participate in The Pledge. They could even pressure their school’s administration to make policy changes that would improve energy consumption. Similarly, high schoolers are also very active on social media, and because they live at home, they can more easily encourage their parents to help them reduce their household emissions.
Monthly Pledge Newsletters- The Pledge Team will write the newsletters. We intend to have competitions for high schoolers for the cover art.
Where will these actions be taken?
The Pledge will initially be deployed in the US. This is because America has one of the highest national emissions per capita (ref. 30) and the second highest total emissions in the world (ref. 31). However, the platform could easily be applied to any other country or region, and The Pledge Team will be very willing to help out any other regions who show interest in implementing The Pledge.
How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?
Multiple studies show that our world already posses the technology to prevent dangerous climate change( ref. 48). The impact The Pledge will have in addressing climate change is to persuade a large number of people to implement these technologies and habits on an individual level. Basic research shows that if 10 million Americans (or in some cases, households) make small changes, we can reduce US emissions by 1% (see Action 1 in “What Actions Do You Propose” for list).
What are other key benefits?
The Pledge has the ability to serve as the base of a free surveying infrastructure that could be used for policymakers, firms, and startups alike. The emissions reduction actions that people more heavily choose or don’t choose can be used to estimate the potential footprint of a new policy or product. For new products, one of the common major sources of uncertainty is the product’s immersion into the market. It would be easy to gauge the public's interest under the format of The Pledge. Similarly, if we are able to decipher what behavioral and energy interventions have the highest marginal reduction in emissions based on big data, policymakers would be able to write more effective policies. The optional section of the survey where people guess the emissions of different actions would be useful for policy-makers by highlighting high emission actions that have flown under the radar.
What are the proposal’s costs?
We may be able to get a crew to volunteer to make a video for self publicity or because people care about climate change. However, if we cannot, our estimates are below. We are assuming two full days of filming for a 3-4 minute video and The Pledge Team will write the script.
Crew: 2 crew members at $50 an hour for 16 hours- $1600
Actors: 5 Actors for 4 hours each at $50 an hour $1000
Editing: 1 Editor at $75 an hour for 12 hours- $900
Total: $3500 (ref. 46)
Website and App Development
Prototype: A prototype of the app and website should be built for beta testing with 1000 to 2000 users. The prototype will be necessary for faster and cheaper iteration rework as well as reducing the cost of of the final website and app development. Estimated Cost: $3,000 (source: CTO of NYC Tech Start-Up)
Final Website and Mobile App: The website and mobile app will be outsourced to gigster.com, based on recommendations from multiple computer science engineers. Estimated Cost: $75,000 (ref. 44)
Server: We will use Amazon Web Services for the server. We have estimated our max users at one time to be 70,000 (10 million users for half an hour per month * 10 for max demand estimation). We will ensure we do not need real time updating to keep server costs down. Estimated Cost-$ 3,000/ month (source: CTO of NYC Tech Start-Up, ref. 45)
Website and App Maintenance: 5 to 10 hours a week for minor bug fixes at $50-100/hr. Estimated cost: $750/month (source: Dropbox Software Engineer)
The goal is to have The Pledge posted to social media mid 2017. The goal for the first year would be a 1% reduction in US emissions. We arrived at a target of 1% because it was a large enough for people to be excited about, but not so high it was unrealistic. Each subsequent year, the goal would be to gain an extra 1% of emissions reductions by having more people fill out the pledge, and by adding new emissions reduction devices and habits to the survey. If we achieve our 1% decrease in US emissions a year, by 2022, the US would have a 5% reduction in emissions or a 1% global reduction in emissions. While this is ambitious, it will take ambitious ideas to combat climate change!
For medium term and long term goals, we hope that eventually the habits addressed in The Pledge become so commonplace that a pledge is not needed. Over the next few years as technology progresses, and the promise of the “connected home” becomes a reality, the app’s ability to measure individual's’ energy consumption will increase.