Speakers' Corner

Pivot Green members are a vocal group who often send out correspondence to newspapers, politicians, corporations, and other environmental groups. Some samples of our work can be seen below.


Teachable moment

Lessons from COVID-19 can help us change the world by starting small, Derek Stephenson and Tom Scanlan write.

Ottawa Citizen

30 May 2020

During a recent interview, Samantha Power, once Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, said that people overwhelmed by a monumental crisis often lose sight of how to enact meaningful change. Her solution is intriguing: “Shrink the change.” Try something manageable and see where it takes you.

Which is exactly what COVID -19 has us doing. We are responding to the need for major changes to fight the virus by making minor ones in our own lives — in how we work and how we relate to each other. We are physically distancing, staying at home and helping our neighbours, all for the greater good. As a result, we are also helping the environment: lower carbon emissions, less pollution and even some much-needed peace and quiet for West Coast orcas because boat traffic is down.

But now we are starting to relax the measures we’ve taken and, once the virus is on the run, factories will swing back into action, traffic congestion will return and global temperatures will start to rise.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We have fought the virus by listening to our scientists. Why don’t we do the same with climate change? It’s a pivotal moment, so let’s use the lessons learned from COVID-19 to pivot green.

Leading environmentalists are calling for drastic measures. But there is also a golden opportunity to pitch in by thinking small. Will it make a difference? We think so, for one simple reason: We’ve seen it happen before.

In 1976, we helped form an environmental foundation called “is five.” The name evoked synergy (the notion that two times two can equal five), and its strategy was simple: Mount positive action on a personal level. Help people reduce energy use, build a garden without chemical pesticides, drive less, eliminate waste. We launched dozens of projects. One of them caught fire.

Back then, to recycle glass bottles or jars in Toronto, you had to cart them to one of perhaps a dozen drop-offs across the city. Beginning with a few streets in the Beach district, we offered to pick up the glass if residents left it at the curb. Our recycling staff (of two) and their beat-up pickup were soon overwhelmed. People were so grateful that some left cookies along with their bottles. Before long, we were expanding the program.

From these baby steps, the world-renowned blue-box recycling program was born. Kitchener was the first to provide its residents with those unmistakable containers, which soon were seen across Ontario, then the country, before being exported to the United States, Europe and most recently (according to posters spotted in a rice paddy) Vietnam.

Was it a fluke? We think not. COVID-19 has shown governments everywhere that, faced with a common threat, people will alter how they live. Now the focus can shift to an even bigger threat, and many of the grassroots initiatives sparked by the crisis are worth preserving.

For example, a Montreal company is providing free bikes so essential employees can get to work more easily. Providing bikes to employees who live within riding distance as part of their benefits package could change travel patterns in cities.

In Toronto, a woman has started a small business connecting people who have lawns with others who are looking for a spot to plant a food garden. And, even before COVID-19, a west-end restaurant had started reducing its prices on Sunday to ensure it ended the week with nothing going to waste.

Both these initiatives could be replicated elsewhere. Food production has a massive effect on the environment, and no less than 58 per cent of all that’s produced in Canada is wasted. Reducing restaurant waste and growing food on empty lawns could have a major environmental impact. These are just a few small ideas with the potential to blossom.

COVID-19 has demonstrated how fragile life is. But if we can flatten a curve, we can pivot away from a lifestyle that is unsustainable. All we have to do is act together — and start small. Or, as Samantha Power reminds us: “The big solutions usually come through incremental change.”

Derek Stephenson was the Research Director for the is five Foundation and is now president of Strategy Matters Inc. He is a leading global expert on sustainable circular economies. Tom Scanlan is the former director of is five communications, and the author of seven elementary and secondary school urban geography textbooks.

"There are countless examples of government successfully "picking winners" and creating opportunities and jobs (green or polluting) based on investments in research, new job programs, training and supporting pilot projects. I got my first job during the employment-challenged eighties, which lead to a lifelong professional career in what became a Canadian winner - blue-box recycling - which has been exported around the world. We have a tremendous opportunity to provide newly unemployed people with jobs of the future through training and investments in retrofits, conservation technologies, and other climate-friendly programs."

Betty Muise Thornbury, Ont.

Globe and Mail, 3 June 2020

Re: Ottawa’s Quixotic Jolt To Our Electric-battery Industry Is Riskier Than It’s Letting On (Oct. 7)

“Will consumers really take to electric cars in significantly greater numbers than their current minuscule market share?” The answer should be a resounding yes, for many reasons. The cost of the battery (which makes up one-third of the cost of an electric vehicle today) is falling rapidly. Between 2022 and 2024, it is expected to reach $100 per kilowatt-hour, the magic sweet spot. At that point, EVs will cost the same as the equivalent gas vehicle; charging infrastructure will be built out; the range on a charge will be about 400 kilometres, so one can comfortably go to the cottage and back at virtually zero cost. As well, California and Britain, among others, plan to ban gasoline vehicles by 2035. So, yes: I believe EVs will move far beyond their minuscule share of today by the next decade."

Maria Kelleher, Toronto, Ont.

Globe and Mail, 13 October 2020

Re: Ford government's policies put climate-change targets at risk, provincial auditor warns (Nov. 18)

"While many jurisdictions around the world are pivoting green during the pandemic with a slew of creative programs to battle climate change, our premier seems to be using the pandemic as a smokescreen. Behind the scenes, Ford continues to miss the mark on the environmental file. The auditor general's scathing report leaves no doubt how dismal his performance has been."

Tom Scanlan, Toronto

Toronto Star, 19 November 2020

"I am adding my voice to the growing choir asking you to remove Schedules 6 and 8 from Budget Bill 229...While the government is rightly concerned about the economy - especially now - let me remind you that a healthy environment is essential for a healthy economy.

Toni Ellis, Toronto, Ont.

See Full Letter to Ted Arnott

Tom Scanlan, Toronto, Ont.

Globe and Mail, 09 December 2020

“It's been more than 40 years since our "tiny, perfect mayor" presided over the city, but David Crombie's principled resignation from the advisory Greenbelt Council shows he still can punch above his weight.."

"I support a letter-writer who believes that Mark Machin deserves his $5.9 - million payout because the returns on the Canda Pension Plan exceeded the S&P/TSX Composite Index, but on one condition: The CEOs who have left companies that underperformed the index should pay back their buyouts."

Tom Scanlan, Toronto, Ont.

Globe and Mail, 05 March 2021

But there are other voices that feel a fast­er transition is necessary. They demand a sharper shift in focus away from traditional oil and gas production. “The writing is on the wall” for a permanent decline in oil and gas demand, said environmental engineer Maria Kelleher, who serves on several non-profit boards. Consequently Canada “has to get its skates on and figure out what we’re going to do when oil and gas isn’t as valuable.”  We don’t want the oil industry to be­come the latest Blockbuster Video or East­man Kodak Co., clinging to a technology that is clearly outdated, she said. Instead, the Canadian economy needs to quickly shift toward sectors that help mitigate cli­mate change but also provide significant growth potential — such as battery tech­nology, hydrogen fuel cells, biotechnology and electric vehicles.”

Maria Kelleher, Toronto, Ont.

An excerpt from "Reshaping Canada's economy after the pandemic" in the Director Journal

An Old Dog Learns New Tricks: Applications of Social Psychology to Encourage Canadians to Conserve Energy


Peter Love, June 2021

For 50 years I have been involved in creating and managing voluntary energy efficiency programs, as well as managing agencies set up to design and deliver those programs. It is amazing to me that so few of the lessons from social psychology, and behavioural psychology in particular, are used in these programs.  Through both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I never took a psychology course and (although, like many, I have read a few of the popular books on the subject including Nudge, The Undoing Project, Fostering Sustainable Behaviour, and The Power of Habit). 

At age 70, I decided to change that and returned to university to take courses in psychology and social psychology.  I believe that two of the social psychology principles I learned about in my coursework—social identity theory and the theory of delayed gratification – can be used to encourage energy conservation.

Social Identity Theory Applied to Energy Conservation

Social identity theory explains why and when individuals categorize themselves as group members and identify with that group.  This then influences an individual’s self-concept which can, in turn, influence their behaviour.  Applied to energy conservation, the majority of people do not see themselves primarily as environmentalists but as part of one of many other possible groups.  While some of these groups are based on highly context-specific features (age, gender), others are based on characteristics such as family status (parents/grandparents), careers (professionals, union), activities (hobbies, recreation) or other types of groups.  

The messaging members of these groups receive from others in their group or in the media typically does not encourage these specific groups to conserve energy and likely does not even mention it as an issue.  The messaging members of these (non-environmental) groups currently see in most public media encouraging energy conservation is often focusing exclusively on the environmental benefits and thus not speaking to the core interests of their self-identified group. It is thus very easy for members of these groups to ignore energy conservation messaging. 

As noted by Calin O’Connor in the “Facts Aren’t Enough” podcast, when people do not see others whom they trust (such as other members of their self- selected group) behaving in a desired way, they will not change their own behaviour.  Furthermore, non-environmentalists are also unlikely to know that their neighbours may actually be conserving energy because such measures are not visible but hidden behind walls, inside appliances and in basements.  This is unlike the very popular blue box recycling program where everyone can see that their neighbours are participating and are therefore more likely to participate themselves.

Energy Conservation Approaches Based on Social Identity Theory

To address the barrier to increased energy conservation associated with the social identity theory, and also link energy conservation to an action that can help address climate change, a wide range of role models could be identified who support greater energy efficiency as a means to combat climate change.  These role models should be well known and respected by individuals within selected non-environmental groups.  The messages would be designed to link the core interests of each particular group with a related benefit that would come from halting climate change.  They would also focus on energy efficiency as something each individual can do to take action on this issue. 

Examples of actions based on social psychology would include:

  • call to parents/grandparents to leave a better world for their children/grandchildren;

  • call to gardeners/bird watchers/canoeist/cottagers/outdoors enthusiasts to protect wilderness and wildlife, hunter/fisherman about the loss of wildlife habitat through climate change;

  • call to farmers about the loss of crop land and water shortages, and;

  • calls from community leaders, sports and entertainment celebrities and religious leaders stressing humanity’s need to look after the earth. 


Such messages could be distributed to media channels popular with each different group.  Similar initiatives have been undertaken in the past although none have been as focused as this initiative. 

These approaches are similar to the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain’s successful campaign to have environmentalists/cottagers/ hunters/fishermen/maple syrup producers/outfitters and others join their coalition in the 1980’s.  In this case, unique messaging was developed for each different group. 

A more recent example is a video produced by the UK group Climate Outreach which include short comments from gardeners, grandparents, bird watchers and soccer players on why they support action on climate change.  In this example, although the focus was on climate change, all these messages were contained in one video and not unique to a specific target group.

Theory of Delay of Gratification Applied to Energy Conservation

The theory of delay of gratification describes the act of resisting the impulse to take a reward immediately in the hope of getting a bigger reward in the future.  This theory impacts energy conservation behavior in two main ways:

  • to use existing equipment more efficiently (e.g. turn off lights, use programable thermostats, walk/bike, etc.) and;

  • replace older equipment with new more energy efficient versions (e.g. LED lights, EnergyStar appliances, LEED buildings).

 While newer energy efficient products will save money in the future, they typically cost more than the less energy efficient alternative.  They require consumers to wait a few years before they get their money back in energy cost savings. This period is referred to as the payback period.  While some studies have estimated this period to be as low as 3 years, it is believed by some to be as low as 1 year.  In terms of return on investment (ROI), a 3 -year payback period is equivalent to a 33% ROI and a 1-year payback to a 100% ROI which is many times more than can be gained by investing in stocks or bonds. 

Energy Conservation Approaches Based on Delayed Gratification Theory 

To address the problem associated with delayed gratification, instead of positioning purchases of energy efficient products as a cost, public messaging should position them as investments.  This means that instead of referring to annual energy savings or payback periods, savings should be expressed in terms of ROI.  

An example of this type of messaging has been used to compare the relative risk/return of energy efficiency in commercial buildings (low risk and hi return) with other investments such as government bonds (low risk & low return), equity in large companies (medium risk and medium return) and small companies (high risk and potentially high returns).   The results are illustrated in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Relative Returns and Risks of Energy Efficiency Investments

Source: Love, Peter.  Fundamentals of Energy Efficiency (2018), p. 25 (adapted from Ehrardt-Martinez and Laitner (2008).  “The Size of the US Energy Efficiency Market: Generating a More Complete Picture”.  American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Washington, DC.)

Another approach to address delayed gratification is to offer some form of visible recognition when someone buys an energy efficient product.  This could be in the form of a sticker (such as used when people give blood), lapel pin, certificate suitable for framing or a plaque for an entire house (as is done for LEED certified buildings).


Based on the research undertaken for this paper, it is clear that there is a large opportunity to apply social psychology theories to identify better ways to encourage more Canadians to conserve energy.  After spending most of my career on energy policy, reading relevant papers and attending key conferences, it is surprising how little recent research there has been in this area.  The main annual conference where these topics should be discussed (Behavior, Energy and Climate Change) seems more focused on identifying and reviewing best practices.  Most of the references on this topic in one of the most recent and well-respected textbooks on environmental psychology by Robert Gifford are almost all 20-30 years old.  This is very fertile ground for further research.

About the author:

Peter Love is a Professor at Yorkville University and an Adjunct Professor at York University where he teaches courses on energy efficiency and sustainability and has written a free on-line text book on energy efficiency policy and programs.  He provides strategic and policy advice and serves on several corporate and non-profit boards including Efficiency Capital, International Solar Solutions, Lightspark, Toronto 2030 District (Chair Advisory Committee) and the Royal Canadian Institute for Science (past Chair).  Previous roles have included Chief Energy Conservation Officer of Ontario and member of the team at Pollution Probe in the 70’s that developed the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.