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Have your say: How can we make it cool to be eco-friendly? Add to ...

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

Remember the One Tonne Challenge? A slew of hopeful and humorous print and TV ads in the mid-2000s encouraged Canadians to drive less, turn down the thermostat and buy energy-efficient appliances so we could collectively meet our Kyoto greenhouse gas reduction target.

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You’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten – our main memory of the three-year campaign is Rick Mercer as a climate-change-talking cartoon sheep. But it would appear that those were the good old days of Canada’s eco-interest. Polls during that era of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth found the environment as the top priority of Canadians: Up to 30 per cent of us put the planet ahead of economy and health care. But today the planet has fallen back to third place, at around 10 per cent.

For some reason, we’re not collectively motivated to make eco-friendly changes to our lifestyle. In addition to good-natured nudging, we’ve tried fear and guilt, but research shows that playing on these kinds of emotions leads to denial, hopeless paralysis and disengagement from the issue.

So we’re left with the only surefire way to inspire behavioural change in our image-obsessed society: the power of cool.

Montreal’s Oöm Ethikwear and Victoria’s Not Just Pretty are two of many small Canadian retailers making eco-friendly fashion hip. OttawaVeloVogue.com has a great series of photo shoots featuring fabulously fashionable bike commuters in the nation’s capital. And last year, VancouverMom.ca held a popular contest to name the city’s greenest family.

As the hipster beard, teeth grills and ear gauging have shown us, people can overcome any psychological barrier if a given action is trendy. So how do we harness the seemingly irresistible pull of peer pressure to spark mainstream Canadians to more eco-friendly lifestyle choices?

This week’s question: What would it take to convince mainstream Canadians that being eco-friendly is cool?

THE EXPERTS:

Sarah Francis, conscious fashion blogger

Media, trendsetters and pop culture have to set up eco-consciousness as something that elevates social status. Luckily in fashion that trend seems to be growing. Stella McCartney is a leader with her vegan, eco-friendly line; and H&M’s Conscious Collection uses organic and sustainable materials. In the end, though it still takes a conscious individual effort to put one’s ‘Less is the New More’ Pinterest board into practice.

Jessi Cruickshank, co-host of CBC’s Canada’s Smartest Person

Electric vehicles are more affordable than ever, get great gas mileage and can lower greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent – a lifestyle choice that will have a profound impact on climate change, which makes it pretty darn cool.

Beckie Granatstein, executive director of GreenLearning Canada

Being eco-friendly is already cool, but not enough people know it is. The fastest way to a cooler, more sustainable future is by empowering youth to actively create a better tomorrow. We have students investigate how climate change has a direct impact on their lives: maple syrup yields, ski seasons or skating on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal – it really spurs them into action.

Robert Gifford, professor of environmental psychology at University of Victoria

‘Cool’ means different things to different Canadians. Learn what is cool for a given part of the population, and tie eco-friendly to that. The cool kids who go green will influence their fans.

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