Girl Scouts teach their parents to be green

It turns out that young girls could be perfect soldiers in the war against climate change. Researchers have found that after participating in energy-saving education programs, Girl Scouts made better energy-saving decisions and prompted their families to do the same, cutting household energy use.

Children have a powerful influence on parents. They make adults look at the world with awe, appreciate the smaller things in life, and improve habits relating to things like health and finance. The new study by Stanford University and Oregon State University scientists published in Nature Energy shows that kids could also be effective at delivering the energy-saving message at home and getting people to change their energy use habits.

The study involved 30 Girl Scout troops in northern California. The troop members, with an average age of 9.5, took part in five hour-long sessions that taught them how to save energy either at home or in food and transport decisions. They learned behavior changes like turning off power strips and lights when not in use; adjusting refrigerator temperatures; washing clothes in cold water; checking tire pressure; eating less meat; and using reusable water bottles.

The interactive sessions were based on the concepts of social cognitive theory, which suggests that behaviors can be influenced by people’s social interactions, their environment, and experiences. The participants answered questionnaires about their energy use before and after the interventions.

Immediately after the interventions, the girls increased residential energy-saving habits by 49 percent while parents increased theirs by 12 percent. The effects were surprisingly long lasting, with some Scouts still showing higher energy-saving behaviors seven months after the program. Food and transportation energy savings increased by 7 percent after intervention but the effects didn’t last for most families.

Calculations showed that the behavior changes cut annual household electricity and gas use by 5 and 3 percent, respectively, post-intervention—and by 3 and 1 percent at follow-up.

As girls spread their knowledge to friends and schools, the impact of such programs could reach far beyond just their homes, the researchers said. Scaling up such interventions to Girl Scout troops and other youth organizations nationwide could have a big impact on US household energy savings. —Prachi Patel | 14 July 2016

Source: Hilary Boudet, Nicole M. Ardoin, June Flora, K. Carrie Armel, Manisha Desai and Thomas N. Robinson. Effects of a behavior change intervention for Girl Scouts on child and parent energy-saving behaviors. Nature Energy 2016. DOI: 10.1038/nenergy.2016.91

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