Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Light a Fire Under Them

It is clear the occupants of Potter Hall are not happy with my recent posts about how they have a larger environmental impact than the offices of their peers. Hey, data can't lie! Well maybe data can be used to manipulate a bit. Mark Twain said it best, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." But the data I have reported is pretty straightforward. The occupants of Potter Hall are using more electricity and producing more waste per person than any of the other offices.

Why are the Potter Hall occupants so offended? Maybe referring to them as muggles has set them off. What does muggle mean anyway? I know in Harry Potter it means a person without magical powers. I can only think of one person in Potter that might be offended by this label. Maybe muggle has a meaning I am not aware of. Wikipedia informed me there are a few other meanings such as a person lacking a skill, a marijuana cigarette, a hot chocolate, or it can be a verb to represent the act of removing a cache in the sport of geocaching. I don't think these explain why they are so offended.

What can it be? Probably I have hit a nerve by identifying this group as the worst environmental offenders in the Green Office Challenge. Nobody likes to be labeled the worst. This little experiment really highlights the power of making environmental impact data more transparent. When groups see they are not the best, they will be motivated to change. The key is groups. Doug McKenzie-Mohr has done some great work showing the power of social marketing in fostering sustainable behavior. I am starting to realize the sustainability movement needs pscychologists more than physical scientists (notice I stuck in physical so as not to offend the Psychology Department). Britain Scott, at the University of St. Thomas, and Susan Kroger, at Willamette, created a great resource for teaching pscyhology for sustainability. I am trying to figure out how we can run a similar course at Lasell. It would be a great addition to our Environmental Studies Program.

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