An article, Turn the Little Red Dot green, in today’s The Straits Times, featured some quotes from me. Here’s my full response to the media query for the article:
I think environmental awareness has increased over the years as people get more exposed to environmental news over the web. However, the increase in awareness has not resulted in a corresponding increase in action. There is still a gap or disjuncture between awareness and action.
One reason for this gap is that people don’t feel a sense of responsibility for our environment. The government has been so efficient in tackling environmental issues that we “outsource” actions to the government who will take care of the environment on our behalf.
Second, government policies on the environment also tend to be infrastructural or end-of-pipe in nature, and not so much focused on developing green habits and behaviourial change. There is still room for more education and engagement to achieve bottom-up buy in.
To narrow the disjuncture between top-down policies and bottom-up buy in, I would suggest 3 actions:
1) Link the environment to our lives and help people understand the connection and responsibility
We have to understand the environmental impacts of our daily actions and feel the responsibility. For example, when we throw something away, it does not go to a magic place called “away”, it goes to our incineration plant for burning and then the ash ends up at the Semakau Landfill. The more we throw, the shorter the landfill lifespan. The energy we use, the cars we drive, the products we buy, the companies we support – all our activities have an impact on our environment and this needs to be better communicated.
2) Make it structured and easy for people to take action and form habits
Getting someone to be green is a habit change, which requires a structured programme to change the habit, similar to other structured programmes to get people to quit smoking or lose weight. We can’t just educate people and expect them to practise a green habit. We need a structured programme over at least 90 days (time required to form a habit) with easy steps and tips to get someone to adopt a green habit, whether it is to recycle or save energy.
3) Focus more on connecting and engaging stakeholders, besides implementing policies
Government agencies should do more to engage stakeholders right from the policy design stage, and connect various stakeholders like NGOs and companies to see how they can work together to implement the solutions, rather than the agencies implementing the solutions themselves.