www.teu.org.uk
The Edinburgh Report
Carbon Conversations as a tool for
environmental change
Irina Nedelcu.
The University of Edinburgh

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The Edinburgh Report Irina Nedelcu, Transition Edinburgh University
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Executive Summary
• Carbon Conversations is a six session course
engaging with people on an emotional level to
determine low-carbon lifestyle changes
• Since 2009 there have been over 50 courses
delivered in UK in 2010 and 73 people have
been trained to become facilitators.
• In Edinburgh, Transition Edinburgh University has
run 15 courses over the past year (that’s over
100 participants) and has another 13 scheduled
for the current academic semester with 41
trained facilitators.
Participants make significant changes to their
lifestyle. One participant changed jobs from
Balloch to Callander to avoid commuting, one
family of two moved into a smaller house, a few
people have changed to more efficient cars
and some have stopped flying altogether.

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Background
In July 2009 The Guardian published the article Twenty ideas that could save
the world in its search for “the greatest plan to tackle climate change”. At the
time “one of the most quietly inspiring presentations” came from the
Cambridge psychotherapist Rosemary Randall, in the form of Carbon
Conversations – a six session course engaging with people on an emotional
level to determine low-carbon lifestyle changes. One year and a half later,
the course has taken off from Cambridge and is being successfully run in
London, Norwich, Oxfordshire, Winchester, Scotland and Wales.
The course
But what makes Carbon Conversations so popular? What’s the secret behind
this approach proven to determine behaviour and lifestyle change? And for
those who are still unaware: what is Carbon Conversations and how does it
work?
The subject of climate change has been on everyone’s lips for quite some
time now. We are all familiar with the facts, some of us tut, choose to ignore
them, agree to disagree, but mostly what it all comes down to is talk. People
are reticent when it comes to making a change. We’ve been taught and
learned to become consumers. Changing habits that have been rooted in
our behaviour for generations now is very difficult to achieve. It’s like having
to learn a new alphabet, speak a new language. “We are all often very
resistant to change, people usually feel comfortable with what they know,”
says Rosemary Randall.
There have been notable technological and policy changes, but few of
these engage directly with people and how they live their lives. Thus came

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One of the best ways
to raise people’s
awareness and to
challenge our
unsustainable
behaviour is to ask
questions about why
do we do the things
that we do.
Astrid Horward, Eco Promotion
the need for a space where people can discuss the issues they’re confronted
with, understand them and make decisions in a non-judgemental, group
supporting environment.
“One of the best ways to raise people’s awareness and to challenge our
unsustainable behaviour is to ask questions about why do we do the things
that we do. Provide a space for a discussion about these issues in a group
setting,” says Astrid Horward, CC facilitator for Eco Promotion.
That’s what Carbon Conversations offer: a group of six to eight participants
meeting over the course of six sessions fortnightly – a reasonable commitment
for something other than a hobby. The six sessions are divided as follows:
introduction, energy, food, travel, other purchases, conclusion. That’s what
one can roughly expect in terms of structure. Add to that a pair of trained
facilitators and a very thorough course book – “without the manual you are
much more dependant on the
facilitator and since we use
volunteer facilitators, the content
of the manual is necessary and this
structured course is necessary,”
says Rosemary Randall. But Carbon
Conversations is not the usual
course. It is “not focused on
content, but on the process of
learning,
sharing,
addressing
emotions, values and belief
systems. The book provides information both before the meeting, to familiarize
(course participants) with the issues and after the course, (for them to) look
things up again, research information, check what they’ve learned,” says
Astrid Horward.

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One participant changed
jobs from Balloch to
Callander to avoid
commuting, one family of
two moved into a smaller
house, a few people
have changed to more
efficient cars and some
have stopped flying
altogether.
When people attend Carbon Conversations their motivations range from:
curiosity, genuine interest for the climate change issue, they’ve considered
making a change, but they’re not quite there yet in terms of making it, or they
are simply looking for people to share their experience with. Whatever the
reason, something happens when the group comes together, when issues are
being addressed in a friendly, family-like environment.
There haven’t been any accounts of skeptics to mess with a group’s balance.
At the most, people are reserved when it comes to expressing their emotions,
but with the assistance of a skilled facilitator they open up and even make
unbelievable changes to their lifestyle. One participant changed jobs from
Balloch to Callander to avoid commuting, one family of two moved into a
smaller house, a few people have changed to more efficient cars and some
have stopped flying altogether or have cut down on flights and in one group
a young lady who was quite
resistant in the beginning and
found it difficult to make any
changes to her lifestyle is now
involved
in
a
carbon
reduction program in her
organization.
As a bonus to these visible
changes, there’s the group
cohesion. People stay in touch
after the course is over, join mailing lists and meet regularly – not all of them,
but most of them, enough to register their progress.
Since the Manchester review in 2009 there have been over 50 courses
delivered in UK in 2010 and 73 people have been trained to become
facilitators.

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The Edinburgh Report Irina Nedelcu, Transition Edinburgh University
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Carbon
Conversations here in
Edinburgh and at the
University, have taken
off in a way we hadn’t
anticipated.
Rosie Sullivan, Transition Edinburgh
University
Carbon Conversations in Edinburgh
In Edinburgh, Transition Edinburgh University has run 15 courses over the past
year (that’s over 100 participants) and has another 13 scheduled for the
current academic semester with 41 trained facilitators. In fact, this puts
Edinburgh at the top of the UK list in terms of number of Carbon Conversations
ran simultaneously. “Carbon Conversations here in Edinburgh and at the
University, have taken off in a way we hadn’t anticipated,” says Rosie Sullivan,
coordinator of the Edinburgh
Carbon
Conversations.
“The
process of bringing such a course
to an academic institution has
been an exciting journey so
far. People aren’t too accustomed
to talk about themselves when
they’re surrounded by academic
lectures or staff meetings, but
Carbon Conversations removes that kind of pressure. For some the discussions
seem to reinforce the things they're already committed to, but for others they
have quite a profound effect.”
The Carbon Footprint measurements prior, during and after attending Carbon
Conversations show that one person saves between 1 and 2 tonnes –
sometimes even more, in the case of frequent flyers who manage to
decrease their flying habits.
Carbon Conversations uses one powerful tool and that is: making a change
from the inside. People “must feel that they’re making a choice and not
being pushed into doing something,” as Rosemary Randall stresses. “It’s been
great to see people leaving the meetings with a sense they can actually do
something about such a big problem, with an understanding that it’s not

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going to be a painless process for them personally, but with far more insight
into barriers to change,” concludes Rosie Sullivan.
Conclusion
In searching for one word to define Carbon Conversations I found it difficult to
decide upon just one when I came across some of the participants’
feedback: non judgemental, inspiring, practical, empowering, take things at
their own pace, didn’t feel pressured, but enabled. Every statement testifies
to the conclusion I got from Pamela McLean Project Facilitator for Transition
Edinburgh University: “Carbon Conversations is the first tool I've seen in three
years of research which really helps people discover capability and
confidence to address the big issues of our time.”

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The Edinburgh Report Irina Nedelcu, Transition Edinburgh University
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Contacts
Transition Edinburgh University
Eco Promotion
www.eco-promotion.org
Astrid Horward – Environmental Change Coach - astrid.horward@eco-
promotion.org
Cambridge Carbon Footprint
http://cambridgecarbonfootprint.org/
Rosemary Randall – Founder of Cambridge Carbon Footprint –
rorandall@cambridgecarbonfootprint.org