ARB Research Seminar

This page updated June 19, 2013

Empowering Citizens to Adopt Low Carbon Lifestyles: Strategies and Tools for Behavior Change, Community Engagement and the Reinvention of our Cities

David Gershon, Founder and CEO, Empowerment Institute, New York

October 24, 2011
Cal EPA Headquarters, 1001 "I" Street, Sacramento, CA



In 2006, the Empowerment Institute, founded by David Gershon, began testing a community-based, behavior-change carbon footprint reduction program called Low Carbon Diet. The program consists of twenty-four actions to reduce one's carbon footprint by at least 5,000 pounds in thirty days and to help others do the same. It is based on the Empowerment Institute's two decades of experience working with 20,000 people organized into neighborhood-based peer support groups—EcoTeams—who reduced their environmental footprint 25 percent in cities, ranging from the environmentally progressive Portland, Oregon, and Madison, Wisconsin, to the more middle-of-the-road Columbus, Ohio, Kansas City, Missouri, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The Low Carbon Diet program helped bring attention to personal action and community-based solutions, and was driven by a diverse group of stakeholders, including local governments committed to the issue of climate change who were wishing to engage their citizens; faith-based groups like Interfaith Power and Light representing some 5,000 congregations, wishing to engage congregants; and environmental groups, like Al Gore's Climate Project, which gave the book to the 1,000 people he trained to lead his “An Inconvenient Truth” slide show. This interest resulted in the development of a community engagement strategy called a Cool Community.

There are now over 300 Cool Communities in thirty-six states across America with participants achieving on average a 25 percent carbon footprint reduction and reaching out to fellow citizens to accomplish the same. Cool Communities are also developing robust, long-term carbon reduction capability by building the community leadership, carbon-literate citizenry, and political will necessary to move the community toward even greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But a Cool Community does more than just address a city's carbon footprint; it also enables it to enjoy the immediate practical benefits of green economic development, more livable and resilient neighborhoods and greater environmental sustainability. In this seminar, David will discuss his community-based behavior change model and his plan to bring it to scale through an initiative called the Cool City Challenge.

Speaker Biography

David Gershon is founder and CEO of Empowerment Institute, one of the world's foremost authorities on behavior-change and large-system transformation, and applies this expertise to issues requiring community, organizational, and societal change. His clients include cities, government agencies, large organizations, and social entrepreneurs. He has addressed a wide diversity of issues, ranging from low carbon lifestyles, livable neighborhoods, and sustainable communities to organizational talent development, corporate social engagement and cultural transformation. Over the past thirty years the empowerment programs he has designed have won many awards, and a major academic research study described them as "unsurpassed in changing behavior."

Mr. Gershon used this empowerment proficiency to organize at the height of the cold war, in partnership with the United Nations Children's Fund and ABC Television, one of the planet's first major global consciousness-raising initiatives—the First Earth Run. Building on his background as the Director of the Lake Placid Olympic Torch Relay, he used the mythic power of relaying a torch of peace around the world to engage the participation of twenty-five million people in sixty-two countries, the world's political leadership and, through the media, an estimated 20 percent of the planet's population in an act of global unity. Millions of dollars were also raised as part of this event to help UNICEF provide care for the neediest children of the world.

Mr. Gershon is the author of eleven books, including his recently published Social Change 2.0: A Blueprint for Reinventing Our World, winner of the National Best Book Award, and the best-selling Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds. He co-directs Empowerment Institute's School for Transformative Social Change which empowers social entrepreneurs and change agents from around the world to design and implement cutting edge social innovations. He has lectured at Harvard, MIT, and Duke and served as an advisor to the Clinton White House and the United Nations on behavior change, community empowerment and sustainability.

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