Monday, August 27, 2012

WWOOF Research in the News!

WWindy News from WWOOF Independents recently published this article summarizing my research results about working on organic farms - check it out if you want a quick summary: WWOOF Thesis Review

You can also read the entire thesis here at Lund University's Online Library

WWOOF News also published an article with some concrete ideas on how to get the most out of WWOOFing. The link and article are below:

How to get the most from your WWOOF exchange

August 5, 2012: See full article

WWOOF International has recently had the privilege of reading Maggie Melin’s thesis on Active Learning as a Tool for Behaviour Change, focusing on WWOOF as a Case study for her research.

Maggie is originally from Michigan in the United States and completed her masters thesis at Lund University in Sweden. She has an educational background in statistics, urban planning, and environmental studies/sustainability science with a primary interest in environmental psychology.

After spending a summer WWOOFing in the mountains of Italy Maggie found the concept of living with other families and suddenly adapting to their lifestyle fascinating and wondered how it affected other people.  This inspired her to investigate WWOOF for her thesis, with a focus on the psychology of the volunteers and if and how they learn about different environmental ideas during their experience.

Maggie’s survey was completed by 1381 WWOOF members from around the world. 47 of those respondents were then interviewed personally.

The great thing Maggie’s research shows is that 90% of WWOOFers report having a positive experience – so we are getting something right! Of the rest 5% were neutral and only 3% negative.  Hopefully the information gleaned from this research will help us all to improve the WWOOF experience and ensure that our WWOOFers take something home with them.

Maggie’s research indicates that the top three motivations for people to volunteer with WWOOF is firstly to live with the locals (at 73%), secondly to learn about organic farming (69%) and coming in third at 63% was the opportunity to travel around the country. (Melin. M. 2012. p21)

From this we can see that the majority of WWOOFers want the opportunity to live and learn local customs, traditions and farming methods.  Hosts if you can show that you are actively including these activities in the WWOOFers experience then you will likely have a better chance of encouraging WWOOFers to your property.  Try to make the WWOOF experience about play as well as work.  Get your WWOOFers out and about of an afternoon, to a local fair, meeting the neighbours, on a walk, to community events, weddings, school activities. Perhaps you could spend an afternoon teaching your WWOOFer a local dish, or engaging them in a traditional festivity. WWOOFers want to experience your life as you live it, not just the weeding! Of course this daily living does include hard work, just remember that their needs to be a little fun, laughter and local interaction going on also.

At least 82% of respondents reported adding at least one sustainable resource or lifestyle practise to their daily lives after WWOOFing (p22).  However if you want your WWOOFers to go away with attitudes and skills that they can use in their day to day living it is important to actively engage them in activities and discussions.  The survey indicates that “high levels of behaviour change often correlate with high levels of exploration and explanation” (p28).  It is the active, hands-on activities, discussions around the dinner table and explanations out in the field that provide lasting impressions with WWOOFers.  Get your WWOOFers thinking about the activities by asking them questions, providing them with responsibilities and allowing them opportunities to share their knowledge and ideas.  In this way they can integrate their knowledge into the larger environmental understanding, and hopefully change behaviours along the way.

Interestingly while many respondents noted that they already practised many of the behaviours listed in the survey the majority of WWOOFers still reported leaving the experience and making at least one change to their lifestyle behaviours (p22).  So even WWOOFers that have a lot of experience in the field can learn new things, especially as they experience new environments and traditional farming methods (WWOOFers can teach hosts too).  The survey also indicates that the WWOOF experience reinforces and strengthens some pro-environmental behaviours, even for those volunteers who go into the experience with a great deal of environmental awareness and experience (p27).

Hosts should be prepared to answer questions from the WWOOFer, discuss your knowledge and values and involve them in as many activities as you can.  If possible it is great if you have a few organic living books available for WWOOFers to read, or pro-environmental DVDs for viewing.  Personally I now own cook books, soap-making, gardening and chook raising books that were introduced to me by WWOOF hosts.  In this way Hosts can pass on their knowledge and spread the good news about organic living.  I would also encourage all WWOOFers to take with them a WWOOF notebook, not just as a diary of events, but to write down all the information, recipes, books, websites etc that you gather along the way.

A major focus for change in the WWOOFers lifestyle was in their relationship with food.  WWOOFing allows many the opportunity to experience the entire seed to table food cycle.   WWOOFers report switching to a more organic and/or locally grown diet as they became aware of all the issues surrounding food, such as animal treatment, health benefits of organic food, supporting local farmers, and all the work that goes into food production.  The WWOOF experience brings knowledge and awareness to the WWOOFer and enables them to make more educated food choices in their future.   WWOOFing also reinforces the individuals current sustainable lifestyle practises as they engage in farming practise and can see, feel and taste why it is better to eat local, organic products (p23-24).

This practical experience also enables WWOOFers to draw on more practical experience when engaging in discussion on environmental issues.  One WWOOFer explained, “As far as debating goes I have more personal experiences to draw from which goes further than ‘I read this here’, or ‘saw this on the news there.’ I can say ‘I saw with my own eyes’, or ‘I personally worked on this.’ “(p26)

Maggie’s thesis goes on to explain that WWOOFers who are able to spend time with their hosts and engage in discussion reported a more positive WWOOF experience and a higher degree of behaviour change from their WWOOF experience. Those WWOOFers who had to work and eat on their own, had limited discussion time with the host, and who felt like they were just invited to stay for their labour reported no behaviour changes.  Engage your WWOOFers in discussion around the dinner table, allow them the opportunity to experience a variety of jobs on the farm, make time for each other so respect and trust can develop and you will get the best out of your WWOOFer.  In addition hosts  may leave a lasting impression on WWOOFers facilitating positive behavioural changes and life long friendships into the bargain (p34-37).

In conclusion Maggie (p88-89) lists some suggestions for WWOOFers, Hosts and Organisations that could lead to more positive WWOOF experiences and great pro-environmental change in WWOOFers when they return home.

For Hosts this includes suggestions as;
* asking WWOOFers what they want to gain from their experience.
* letting  them know if you have areas of knowledge/interest that you are keen to teach.
* providing WWOOFers with a variety of tasks to avoid a monotony.
* discuss why farming tasks are important, share your knowledge, explain reasons for farming organically,  share personal stories about your reasons for having a farm.
* spend time with your WWOOFers.
* share books, DVDs and other information sources.
*Encourage longer stays.
*Show WWOOFers how they can transfer some techniques and practices back to their homes.
*Ask WWOOFers to share their ideas, give them responsibilities to encourage critical thinking and problem solving.  Be open to learning from your WWOOFer.
*Provide WWOOFers with feedback and appreciation for their work, give them tips for improving.
*ENGAGE with your WWOOFers.

For WWOOFers to enhance their experience Maggie suggests;
*searching for hosts that can provide you with an experience of interest.
*discuss all aspects of your stay before arrival to ensure a good match.
* understand your motivation and goals for WWOOFing and take a little time to understand what organic farming is about before WWOOFing.
*Be willing to try new things and withhold judgements in the beginning.
*Share your WWOOF goals with your host, discuss thoughts and knowledge and be open to learning.
*Ask your host questions about their background, why they farm organically, any other areas of interest.
*WWOOF at more then one farm.
*Take time to reflect on your experience and what you learned, keep a journal, talk to others about your experience.
*Try to integrate atleast on activity or behaviour learned into your life at home.
*ENGAGE with your host.

Finally to the WWOOF Organisations, what can they do to improve the WWOOF experience for all members?  Maggie’s studies conclude that;

*WWOOF organisations need to encourage members to share their WWOOF experience and knowledge with others, thus allowing for reflection and the spreading of the WWOOF word.   This may be done through WWOOFers speaking at schools, universities, community groups etc.  WWOOF hosts could holding ‘hosting’ workshops to share ideas and knowledge on both good hosting practise and practical farming knowledge. WWOOF members may also encouraged to write articles and blogs on their WWOOF experience to be shared via newsletters and websites.

*WWOOF members may also be encouraged to more reflection on their experience through a questionnaire for completion at the end of their WWOOFing experience.  This would also enable organisations to gain a greater insight into where improvements and changes can be made.

*Many members also concluded that a reference system for comments on members is vital to maintaining the integrity of the WWOOF system.  WWOOF organisations around the world are working hard at creating and maintaining a reference system that keeps the majority happy. It can be tricky to get it right, but the reference system plays an important role in improving the WWOOF experience for all members.

Studies into the WWOOF experience, such as those conducted by Maggie, are a vital part of WWOOF.  They enable us all to reflect on what we are doing, where we can improve and how we can get the most out of our time as a WWOOF member.

WWOOF in its scope is truly multi-national and multi-cultural.  For many members it is a life-changing experience where we can openly discuss and practise new philosophies and lifestyle behaviours, trying on different cultures for a while and piecing together all the little experiences to make up an entire suit that fits us as an individual.

WWOOF is an important player in the planets bid for better environmental practices.  WWOOF brings people closer to the land, allowing them to explore behaviours and activities that are planet friendly and develop their consciousness of the natural world around them. Anything WWOOF organisations and its members can do to encourage and improve this relationship can only be a good thing, right?

Monday, June 25, 2012

WWOOF & Pro-Environmental Behavior Research Results

In the summer of 2011 I had the opportunity to join WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and volunteer in the mountains of northern Italy with a lovely Italian family. I found the concept of living with someone else and suddenly adopting their lifestyle to be very intriguing and wondered how it affected other people, especially if it inspired pro-environmental behavior in individuals when they returned home from their experiences.

Understanding what tools can affect behavior and our general consciousness, whether it be WWOOFing and actively experiencing a new lifestyle (or something more subtle such as bathroom design - the original intent behind this blog), is a topic I find to be both fascinating and extremely important. Below are the main results from my research which show that the WWOOF organization has great potential for inspiring behaviors and attitudes that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly
Thanks so much to everyone who helped with this research! Once my thesis is published online I will add a new post with the link: 

General survey and interview results from 1381 surveys and 47 interviews:
  • 90% of survey respondents reported an overall positive WWOOF experience 
  • The greatest motivations for WWOOFing include:
    •  having a chance to live with locals, 
    •  learning more about organic farming, and
    •  traveling around the country.
  • 89% of respondents reported to add or increase at least one pro-environmental behavior as a result of their WWOOFing experience.
  • Human relationships and feeling a sense of community were the most important factors that contributed to a positive WWOOF experience. Volunteers were especially influenced by sharing ideas and engaging in discussions with hosts they respected.
  • Learning through actively working and experiencing a new lifestyle seemed to result in motivating many people to make changes in their own lives.
  • Having multiple experiences, being open to learning, and having enjoyable tasks were strongly correlated with more impactful experiences.

The following quotes represent the sentiments felt by many WWOOF volunteers:

“WWOOFing had an incredible impact on my life. Perhaps not by way of changing my daily routines or immediate lifestyle, but it touched my subconscious in ways that continue to work at my decisions and goals even a year after the experience. It has been an exceptional way for me to take time for myself, to travel, to connect with locals and to make a difference. The life you are welcomed into when WWOOFing could take years to develop yourself, but with some luck, you get to experience it immediately and truly test the waters. What a glimpse at a lifestyle that could one day be your own. And what a way to figure that out for yourself!”

“Sustainable living is now rooted in practice. It seems more real and tangible.”

“It has been absolutely life changing - one of the best times of my life. I came to learn about organic farming, but the level of personal connections I have made with my hosts has far far surpassed my expectations.” 

Ideas for improvement based on the 5E Learning Cycle Model:

An active learning model was used to evaluate the quality of different WWOOFing experiences. The model consists of five components: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate, and each are explained below along with examples of how they can be used by WWOOF volunteers, hosts, and organizations.

The 5E Learning Cycle Model Applied to WWOOF
What volunteers, hosts, and the WWOOF organization can do to create more positive, meaningful experiences. 

Engage: Participants involved should have prior knowledge, interest or curiosity.

WWOOF Organizations
Search for an experience of interest. Contact hosts before arrival to ensure it is a proper match.

Understand personal motivation and goals for WWOOFing.

Read or watch a documentary about organic farming before WWOOFing.
Ask WWOOFers what they want to gain out of their experience.

In the farm description, hosts can share stories and areas of interest (e.g. hiking, climbing, music, history, etc) so that they reach out to volunteers with similar interests

If the host enjoys teaching others about certain topics, include this in the farm description.
Encourage WWOOFers to share their experiences with others to engage a wider audience of people to consider WWOOFing.

Explore: Participants should be involved in hands-on activities.

WWOOF Organizations
Be willing to try new things and withhold judgment in the beginning.

Explore WWOOFing possibilities locally as well as abroad.
Provide WWOOFers with a variety of tasks so that work does not become monotonous.

If possible allow WWOOFers to see all parts of the organic food process (e.g. from planting to harvesting to selling at the market).

Explain: Participants should be discussing and observing.

WWOOF Organizations
Articulate goals for WWOOFing and share them with the host.

Ask host questions about their background, why they have an organic farm, and other areas of interest.

Discuss thoughts and previous knowledge about organic farming with hosts and other WWOOFers and be open to learning new ideas.
Discuss why farming tasks are important to perform, openly share knowledge and values, explain reasons for farming organically, share personal stories about reasons farming.

Spend time with WWOOFers, especially during meals and farm work.

Share books, DVDs and other informative resources.

Have multiple WWOOFers at one time to increase their opportunity to discuss with others.
On the organization websites, in newsletters, or through emails, provide tips and best practices to volunteers and hosts.

Encourage hosts or WWOOFers to hold hosting workshops e.g. a woman in Australia recently hosted a 'Become a Wonderful WWOOF Host' workshop.

Promote volunteers to speak about their experiences at schools and universities. This could be especially beneficial for people who are at transitions in their lives and could have a significant impact on their future career paths. 

Elaborate: Participants should be applying their experiences to new situations.

WWOOF Organizations
WWOOF at more than one farm.

Teach others.

Try WWOOFing after finishing a degree, between jobs, or during some other life transition period.

Make a plan to try at least one activity or behavior learned on the farm at home.
Encourage longer farm stays.

Show WWOOFers how they can transfer some farming techniques and sustainable practices back to their homes.

Ask volunteers to share their own ideas and be open to learning from them.

Give WWOOFers responsibilities to encourage critical thinking and problem solving.
WWOOF at more than one farm.

Teach others.

Try WWOOFing after finishing a degree, between jobs, or during some other life transition period.

Make a plan to try at least one activity or behavior learned on the farm at home.

Evaluate: Participants should be reflecting about the experience and be provided with feedback.

WWOOF Organizations
Take time to reflect about the experience and what was learned.

Talk to others about WWOOFing.

Write a journal or blog while volunteering.
Reflect with WWOOFers about what they learned during their experience.

Provide WWOOFers with feedback on what they are doing well as well as tips for improving.

Show appreciation for the WWOOFer’s work. 
Create a reference system where past volunteers and hosts can leave comments about their farm experiences.

Encourage volunteers to reflect more about their experience and what they learned. E.g. WWOOF Greece sends a short questionnaire to their WWOOFers to ask about their experience, ideas for improvement, and encouragement they have for other WWOOFers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Green Roof Movie

I've taken a brief hiatus from writing in this blog because of grad school (I'm studying Urban and Environmental Planning). However, the good news is that grad school has exposed me to all sorts of great new ideas involving water and waste - topics very relevant to the Green Toilet.

While my hiatus continues until I finish school, I wanted to leave you with a short movie that another classmate and I made for our class on sustainable communities. It is about the benefits of green roofs and why students think our school (the Architecture School at the University of Virginia) should have one.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Light up your Bathroom - LED, CFL or Incandescent?

What kind of lighting is best for your bathroom? You have the choice between purchasing a Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb (CFL), a Light-Emitting Diode Light Bulb (LED) and a normal Incandescent Light Bulb. There are a number of different categories you should consider before making a decision – check out their rankings below:

Best Light Quality

  1. Incandescent – the obvious winner. Yellow, warm light is much preferred!
  2. Two way second place/last place tie. LED bulbs (which are used to light up the computer screen you are reading this on) are slightly dimmer and have a daylight quality to them. They tend to stream light in one direction so you’ll end up with dark spaces in your room. CFL bulbs – people say the lighting isn’t that bad. Maybe it’s something you have to get used to but I can’t stand it in a small space.

Environmentally Friendly
  1. LED bulbs are by far the most environmentally friendly. They use the least amount of electricity, they last the longest and they do not contain hazardous materials. If you’re willing to sacrifice on light quality and spend more upfront, choose this bulb.
  2. Incandescent bulbs use the most electricity and fill up the landfills more quickly than the LED and CFL bulbs. If you’re going to use these bulbs, make sure to turn off your lights when you’re not using them or try to make use of natural light from windows. And don't forget to recycle them.
  3. CFL bulbs each contain about 5mg of mercury. You should use CFL bulbs only if you plan to recycle them (drop them off at IKEA or check out Earth 911 for a list of local drop-off locations). When these bulbs break in your home or in a garbage bin, mercury (which is very toxic to the environment and your health) is released. As more and more people jump on Al Gore’s CFL bandwagon, more and more mercury will be released into the environment. Check out NPR's story “CFL Bulbs Have One Hitch: Toxic Mercury” for more information.

Longest Life – The lifetime of a light bulb in the bathroom may be slightly shorter because of moisture, but here’s the standard for these bulbs.
  1. LED – 50,000 to 60,000 hour
  2. CFL – 10,000 hours
  3. Incandescent – 1,000 to 1,500 hours

Lowest Electricity Bill – Check out the Light Bulb Comparison Spreadsheet from Product Dose for an in depth comparison.
  1. LED – these bulbs use slightly less watts of energy than the CFL bulbs. You’ll see the biggest impact in your bill in high energy cost areas.
  2. CFL – according to the EPA these bulbs use 75% less energy than the common Incandescent bulbs.
  3. Incandescent – the energy hog of the light bulb family.

Upfront Costs
  1. Incandescent – as cheap as they get.
  2. CFL – midrange price – often about $10 per bulb.
  3. LED – most expensive initially - usually $30+ per bulb (but this investment will pay off). Check out the C. Crane website to compare prices of different LED models.

Lifetime Cost
  1. LED and CFL – with their long life and low electricity use, these bulbs will save you money in the long term.
  2. Incandescent – over a course of a year, these bulbs can cost you hundreds more than the LED and CFL bulbs.

The choice is up to you. Which ever you chose, just remember to turn off your lights and recycle your light bulbs!

Friday, February 15, 2008

So Why Is Toilet Paper White Anyway?

I recently wrote an email to Kimberly Clark (famous for their paper products including Kleenex, Scott, Viva and Cottonelle) and asked why they bleach their toilet paper white. Their customer support explained that bleaching is not only for aesthetic purposes – it also removes the lignin or glue from the wood. The removal of lignin helps improve the strength, feel and shelf life of their tissue and paper.

Unfortunately, most paper mills and companies like Kimberly Clark use chlorine to bleach their toilet paper. The chlorine bleaching process creates many incredibly toxic by-products including dioxins which end up in our water systems and soils.

Humans are most often exposed to these chemicals by eating contaminated food (e.g. fish), drinking contaminated water, or by working at companies that produce dioxins (e.g. paper mills). It is believe that populations exposed to high levels of dioxins have increased risks of birth defects, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. You can learn more about studies on dioxins at the Nation Institute of Health.

I also wrote an email to Seventh Generation and asked why they whiten their toilet paper and why they, in contrast to Kimberly Clark, bleach without chlorine. Here’s Seventh Generation’s response from the Director of Contract Manufacturing:

"Our tissue products are whitened using processes that are chlorine free. Hydrogen peroxide and/or sodium hydrosulfate are typically used to whiten. Because our tissue products are made from 100% recycled feedstock, this lignin (glue) is not an issue for us. It has already been removed. The whitening process helps provide a tissue with consistent look and feel.

Although I tend to agree directionally with the statement about the lignin and its potential undesired impacts on tissue characteristics, I don’t necessarily agree that chlorine containing substances are the best overall methods for bleaching wood pulp when considering the potential adverse impact on the environment in which we live. Furthermore, I am not necessarily agreeing so readily that bleaching is absolutely necessary in order to make a tissue product that can meet consumer’s expectations. As a matter of fact, we offer an unbleached version of paper towels and napkins which tend to be well accepted by the Seventh generation customer. So, I am suggesting that even if bleaching result in somewhat better tissue characteristics, the value added may not be worth it if all aspects of the situation are being considered."

As Seventh Generation mentions, there are alternatives to the chlorine bleaching processes. Here are your more eco-friendly options when it comes to toilet paper:

  • Unbleached: Completely natural – no bleach added. May not be a winner on softness or comfort.
  • Processed Chlorine Free (PCF): Recycled paper bleached with oxygen, ozone, or hydrogen peroxide. Examples brands of PCF toilet paper: Seventh Generation, Green Forest, Planet, 365 Whole Foods, Earth First. See the NRDC’s toilet paper comparison chart.
  • Totally Chlorine Free (TCF): Non-recycled paper bleached with oxygen, ozone, or hydrogen.

That was the good, now here’s the bad (and the ugly):

  • Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF): Paper bleached with chlorine dioxide. This process releases fewer dioxins than bleaching with chlorine gas, but it is still is harmful to the environment. Examples brands of ECF toilet paper: Charmin, Quilted Northern, Cottonelle, Angle Soft, Kleenex, Safeway Select
  • Chlorine Gas: Dioxins galore!

So the next time you're purchasing toilet paper, try out paper that is chlorine free. It's better for the environment and still white and soft.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Where Does All That Water Go?

What happens to the water you flush down the toilet? What about the water that goes down the drain when you shower or wash your hands? These are questions that I never gave much thought to before I became interested in greening up bathrooms. But Wikipedia and the USGS have helped educate me. I’m hoping to take a trip to a water treatment center to verify all of this, but in the mean time, here’s a simplified look at what happens to the water we use:

  1. Water from the sink, shower, toilet, and so on (now contaminated with chemicals and waste) goes down the drain and heads for either a wastewater/sewage treatment plant or a septic tank. I’m going to focus on the sewage treatment plant in this post.
  2. At the treatment plant, water goes through a primary or mechanical treatment where 60% of suspended solids are removed. Machines remove large objects including human waste, sand, gravel, rocks, oils, greases, rags, fruit, cans, and other objects that could clog or damage the equipment. These solids are usually sent to a landfill.
  3. The remaining liquid goes through a secondary treatment where aerobic bacteria breaks down soap, detergent, human waste and food waste. The bacteria consume the organic components and combine the less soluble parts into blocks called floc (which are removed).
  4. Finally, the water goes through a tertiary treatment where it is filtered and disinfected so it can be released back into the environment. Here are some common steps taken during this stage of treatment:
    • Nitrogen and phosphorus are removed (if necessary) to prevent algae blooms (where algae acts like cancer - it multiplies, uses all of the oxygen in the water, releases toxins and kill animals).
    • Treatment facilities disinfect with chlorine, ozone, or ultraviolet light to reduce the number of microorganisms in the water. Chlorine is commonly used because of its low cost, however, it can be toxic to the environment and aquatic life. Ozone is much safer but expensive. UV light is safer but high in maintenance and not always as effective.
  5. The treated water (or effluent quality water) is released back into the environment via streams, rivers, lakes, ground, etc.

As you can imagine water treatment plants use large amounts of energy to clean water. Unfortunately, most of the water that goes into these treatment plants comes from excessive water use and didn’t need to go down the drain in the first place.

If we can all reduce our water usage in the bathroom by brushing our teeth without the water running, by taking shorter showers, by adding water displacement devices to our toilet tanks, or by purchasing other water saving products, we can significantly cut down the amount of energy we use to clean water at water treatment plants.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Story of Stuff

To continue with the landfill, recycling and composting themes, I wanted to add a quick link to a video a friend of mine told me about. It's a 20 minute video called The Story of Stuff and is about our patterns of consumption - where our products come from and where they end up. Although the video doesn't discuss consumerism in the bathroom (that's my job!), it is still full of interesting facts and is worth a view.