I usually travel with work, but for once I travelled for holiday recently! We have just come back from a two week cruise holiday, where we went to Norway, a few of the Scottish Islands and all around Iceland. We wanted to reduce our carbon footprint as I fly so much with work, so a cruise holiday in and out of a UK port seemed a good way to achieve this.

What an amazing holiday it was! Best holiday I have had for a while.

On our trip, we saw dolphins, whales and seals. Sadly lots and lots of plastic too, especially in the English channel. Admittedly I was sometimes not 100% sure if they were plastic bags or jelly fish. But as we know, that is the problem for the turtles also– it is very hard to tell the difference as they bob along.

It was great to have sometime off work, mainly as I managed to actually do some reading. I read about so many wonderful initiatives in relation to reducing plastic usage whilst away. All these articles and initiatives help to educate people, which is the key for driving the social movement for change.

More and more of the projects I am asked to do for work these days are not focused on individual behaviour change, but are around creating a social movement and starting/changing the conversation to engage people.

Social movements often appear to be very spontaneous, however effective social movements rarely arise by accident. The first part of creating a social movement is bringing the community together, whether that is a physical geographical community, or a virtual community. Behind the scenes there is often a person or an organisation bringing the community together and identifying and defining their common goal and working to understand what will spark the conversation and ultimately result in action.

There are many social movements I have learnt from and admire. Of course, there are the obvious such as Women’s suffrage movement. However, I often draw upon learnings from the smaller, less well-known ones in my work – for example, #BookBurningParty.

Libraries have been affected by cuts in both the US and UK for years now. With the rise of the internet and peoples increasingly busy lives, it is often hard to get people to use libraries, or even care and protest about the closures. They used a social media hoax to get people to care about the library closures in the small city of Troy, Michigan.

The library funding had been reduced heavily for years and a closure date was set: June 30, 2011.

These cuts didn’t seem to match public opinion, with one local survey finding that 72 percent of Troy residents wanted to keep the library’s funding level or even increase it. Only 20 percent wanted its funding cut to some degree.

However, there was a group called Troy Citizens United. They opposed tax increases, regardless of the purpose. Troy Citizens United evidently held major sway – mainly caused by the lack of local residents not turning out to vote in these ballads (it is reported that only around 19% of eligible voters turned out for these ballots).

In May of 2011, just weeks before the library was due to close, the council agreed to delay things slightly and hold one more vote. This time the proposal on the table called for a 0.7 percent tax increase which would be enough to fund the library for five years.

Troy Citizens United opposed the tax increase. But this time there was opposition by a committee called Safeguarding American Families. This committee said it was rooting for the vote to lose so it could throw a book-burning party once the library closed!

Book burning party

They put signs up everywhere inviting people to a book burning party, as well as starting a Facebook page and a Twitter account #BookBurningParty.

As you can imagine, people were not impressed, calling them “sick” and “Cheap imbeciles”. It created a local media frenzy and made people passionate about saving the libraries and wanting to vote. Just before election day, the real message was launched: “A vote against the library is like a vote to burn books.”

The aim was to change the conversation from taxes to libraries and it worked – 38% turned out to vote and 58 percent voted to save the library!

There is a great YouTube video all about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=nw3zNNO5gX0

Although this has nothing to do with plastic reduction, I think it is a good example to learn from. It was about getting people to care about the issue and changing the conversation. Recently, there has been a number of initiatives which have helped to fuel the movement:

Plastic free July is back! You can sign-up as an individual, organisation and/or business at: http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/register.html. Throughout the month they email you lots of handy tips to help you reduce your plastic usage. Their call to action is ‘choose to refuse’. I think that is such a good call as before I have blogged about the need to reduce and not simply recycle.

Plastic free July

McDonald’s have pledged to replace plastic straws with paper ones in all its UK and Ireland restaurants, starting from September 2018. The restaurant chain uses 1.8 million straws a day in the UK. I hate to think how many they use in the USA per day. I question why they have not made the pledge for all their restaurants across the globe, but it’s a good starting point!

Another organisation contacted me as they recently published a guide, titled Plastic Pollution: Single Use Plastic Impact on our Oceans. It gives all the facts and figures of plastic pollution, the impact on our oceans and marine life. It also gives some great Single Use Plastic Alternatives & How You Can Help. I personally love the three minute beach clean up. 3 minutes seems to be a very achievable goal. To read the resource, go to: http://sloactive.com/plastic-pollution/.

Finally, an initiative I am super excited about (as they make reducing plastic usage look cool), is the Run for the Oceans, which is put on in partnership with Adidas. One is being held in London today. There marketing certainly has the ‘cool’ factor!

Run for oceans

Thanks for reading. Enjoy creating your own social movement!

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