Sunday, September 23, 2007

What Sara said

Door-to-Door Experiences

This past summer I was working for Environment Hamilton on their Climate Change Challenge Project. While it has a variety of components I was helping primarily with the door-to-door pledge work. Volunteers were going door-to-door in several neighbourhoods asking people to take the challenge and pledge to change their habits to reduce their impact on climate change.

We visited four neighbourhoods and each had its own challenges and attitudes. The four neighbourhoods were Corktown, Durrand, Westdale and Dundas. I was not yet on board for Corktown, but we were only there for a short while since we realized quickly that this was not a neighbourhood that we needed to target since the residents were already doing everything on our pledge forms out of financial necessity.

The other three neighbourhoods were much more worthwhile to visit and a lot of pledges were taken and a lot of Energy Savings Kits were distributed.

For most people, the idea of going door-to-door is very intimidating. I’ll admit I was one of these people myself at the beginning of the project. By the end, however, I was actually looking forward to my two hours every day of meeting people and discussing their role in environmental protection.

The key difference to our door-to-door work that makes it enjoyable and more successful is that we are not selling anything, in fact we are giving away free Energy Savings Kits. These were donated by Union Gas and some additional information from Environment Hamilton went in as well.

Often, if someone was immediately dismissive and trying to close the door on me right away I would mention that fact and sometimes it worked and I was able to get pledges. The vast majority of people in all three neighbourhoods who answered their doors were very receptive of the idea and willing to commit once they heard the concept.

I got a lot of positive feedback form people who loved that we were out doing what we were doing. There were of course, always people who were unwilling to listen or unwilling to pledge and they would list all kinds of excuses about why they felt they didn’t need to pledge.

The best course of action in these cases was just to leave and not waste time arguing. Overall, though, as mentioned, the response was positive which made the entire experience very enjoyable.

In the Durrand neighbourhood the biggest problem was that people were already doing most of the items on the pledge list. Some were even going above and beyond and gave us additional ideas of things to do. This was actually a bit of a challenge sometimes because we wanted to give away free kits but we couldn’t do that if people weren’t able to pledge.

Usually if people were stumped on what to pledge I would suggest the first item which was to install energy efficient devices and would point out that if they pledged that one, received the kit and installed it they would have it done already. Otherwise I would point to the tenth item which was to eat more locally grown produce and point out that all the information for doing just that was in the kit in the Eat Local Map.

Usually this would jump start the conversation and get the ball rolling and then people might chose one or two more items. For the people who said they were doing almost everything I would suggest the items in step three that are much more challenging or suggest that they get involved in the transit campaign and write a letter to city council.

Very few houses in this neighbourhood after a few minutes of gentle prodding were unwilling to pledge at all.

In Westdale the response was fantastic, this was probably the best neighbourhood not least of all because we had a lot more volunteers which made the work go much faster. The only problem here was that a lot of people said they had already received the kit and then were very dismissive.

We had to explain that this was not the same project and suggest that they pledge, take the kit and pass it on or just pledge and forget about the kit, or hand then the Eat Local Map without the kit. Otherwise though we got a lot of pledges and ground covered until we moved on to Dundas for a week.

In Dundas we were only able to go out a couple of days and I was only out for one of these days. I found Dundas to be the most challenging neighbourhood. At first, I was getting a lot of people listening to the whole description of the project.

I would suggest things people could pledge and they were very unwilling to commit at all. This was worse than people just dismissing me right away because I wasted time going through the pledge with people only to have them refuse to commit at the end.

Things began to pick up after an hour and the houses that did decide to commit were very warm and receptive. It was apparent that this neighbourhood was very suburban. The people in these homes were as affluent or less than the residents of Durrand and Westdale, but much less interested in what I had to say. I found that the feeling of community was much weaker.

For example, in Westdale people would often point down the road and tell me about their neighbours and let me know whether they were home or not. There was very little of this in Dundas. People were much less conscious of their neighbours and much less trusting of people who showed up to their doors. We still did get a few pledges from people and some very good feedback on the project again.

Overall the best part of going door-to-door for me was getting to talk to people and share in their experiences with this problem. This is something that is in the general consciousness and a lot of people have opinions and concerns to share.

Usually elderly residents had the most stories to share and I could spend over half an hour a one door sometimes just listening to fascinating stories of people who had emigrated here from Europe after the world wars.

Even younger parents would be happy to talk about the challenges of running a household and finding time to worry about environmental issues.

The best part about this project was talking to people and seeing how much people actually care about our world and how willing they are to change their habits.

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