A well-being survey as a tool to understand and reduce consumption


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  • Sustainable Seattle ’s core work is the Happiness Initiative, which aims to broaden discussions about community wellbeing beyond economic measures and endless economic growth. One of the main tools we’ve developed for this is a survey that looks at wellbeing broadly.
  • The survey is open to anyone to take, and seems to take the average respondent around 10 minutes to complete. This is a sample page from it.
  • The survey has 10 distinct sections – the 9 domains from Bhutan ’s model that John introduced, and some questions about overall satisfaction with life. Obviously some of these are more relevant to the EPA’s mission and the consumption theme than others. In this talk I’ll focus on the bold sections: physical health, time balance, community vitality, environmental quality and material well-being.
  • 7,200 people had taken the survey by July 21 st , 2011. On this map, there is a star for every ZIP code from which at least one person has taken the survey. Although you can see a disproportionately high density in the northwest, we do have quite good coverage across the more densely-populated parts of the US. One of the ways we achieve this is by working with local partners in as many places as possible, such as…[next slide]
  • Small town in the rural Midwest The public library is coordinating their local initiative Part of that means promoting the survey locally so that more people take it in Decorah So far their results show scoring higher than the national average on almost all sections of the survey Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/stefaniesays/944107279/ and used under Creative Commons licence
  • Our partners here are a nonprofit – GNHUSA.org Their project includes convening town meetings all over Vermont From a data POV, this means we get coverage in rural communities and cities The differences between Vermont, Seattle and the national average turn out to be relatively small, except that Vermonters seem to score a lot higher on community vitality, and a little lower on material well-being Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattsh/5000180013/ used under Creative Commons licence
  • We do still have a Seattle bias in the data, and the South is underrepresented Self-reported data can have a serious skew – are Decorah ’s good results something real, or an equivalent of “Minnesota nice”? We know that the sample is disproportionately wealthy, educated and female; we think there may also be subtler effects of self-selection We do have some efforts underway to address these problems
  • These are our strategies to deal with the weaknesses in the data; they ’re all works in progress. Meanwhile, we still have an interesting dataset that we can learn some things from, such as
  • These are all medians of the whole sample (7,200 people) Remind the audience of the overall caveats about comparing these numbers Also, this is the previous edition of the survey, so the domains don ’t line up exactly Old survey lacked work questions Old survey didn ’t have a pure education section But look at where we scored really low
  • Correlations between scores on survey sections and self-reported positive emotions 0 means no relationship at all; +1 means the two vary in lockstep So we see that everything matters, and nothing completely determines, but time balance, community vitality, social supports and health all do more for peoples ’ sense of wellbeing than material well-being does
  • Digging deeper into the data shows a more interesting relationship between material well-being and happiness Up to a threshold, which translates to fairly but not spectacularly wealthy [specifically: between $75K and $100K] increasing income improves well-being Beyond that threshold, the effect saturates away This is well-replicated in other well-being research, including that of Daniel Kahneman IMPLICATION: need is bad for well-being, but once a certain level of comfort has been reached any additional consumption stops making people any happier
  • Recall two of the slides in John de Graaf ’s talk We know that asking people for self-sacrifice doesn ’t work, and politicians have been afraid to do this for decades. But if we can show people that overconsumption is not in their own interest, we have a better chance of reducing it
  • Using Seattle as an example because it ’s where we have the most data from, and it’s where we have the local knowledge to connect the data to reality on the ground We know from other sources that different Seattle neighbourhoods have average life expectancies as much as 7 years apart (from http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/data/chi2009/HealthOutcomesLifeExpBirth/HPA.aspx ) Now we can look at how people rate their own health The health questions in the survey focus mainly on ways in which health
  • Also not evenly distributed In this case, I know that the unhappier areas tend to be those with more Superfund sites, old heavy industry and/or proximity to airfields and highways [exception: UW – my best guess is that that area scores low because students are more aware of broader environmental problems] If you think about the causes, it makes sense that low satisfaction with the environment would go with poorer health… [next slide]
  • By no means a perfect fit But we can clearly see that there ’s some relationship Bear in mind that these are things that can generally be improved without increasing consumption Of course, geography isn ’t all-determining, so we can also look at other patterns in the data, such as age groups… [next slide]
  • Overall, our sample scores particularly low on time balance Digging deeper, this turns out to be significantly worse for the young than the old John explained why this matters in his presentation: More need for convenience and throw-away products More reliance on fast food Less time to re-use and recycle Less time for slower, less energy-intensive transportation such as cycling or walking.
  • There is a slightly weaker, but still significant, correlation between age and satisfaction with community vitality & social supports As John said, lonely people consume more Better community also encourages sharing, fixing, DIY, etc
  • A well-being survey as a tool to understand and reduce consumption

    1. 1. A well-being survey as a tool to understand and reduce consumption Eldan Goldenberg, EPA presentation, August 2, 2011
    2. 2. Why a survey? <ul><li>We can learn from the data </li></ul><ul><li>Taking the survey makes people think about what it ’s asking and why </li></ul>
    3. 3. What it looks like http://sustainableseattle.org/survey/GNH/en/
    4. 4. Survey sections <ul><li>Satisfaction With Life </li></ul><ul><li>Psychological Well-Being </li></ul><ul><li>Physical Health </li></ul><ul><li>Work / Time Balance </li></ul><ul><li>Community Vitality & Social Connection </li></ul><ul><li>Education & Capacity Building </li></ul><ul><li>Cultural Vitality & Access to Arts & Culture </li></ul><ul><li>Environmental Quality & Access to Nature </li></ul><ul><li>Governance </li></ul><ul><li>Material Well-Being </li></ul>
    5. 5. Data coverage
    6. 6. Partners: Decorah, IA Photo credit: Stefanie Seskin
    7. 7. Partners: Vermont Photo credit: Matt Shalvatis
    8. 8. A caution about the data <ul><li>Geographic coverage is still uneven </li></ul><ul><li>Everything is self-reported data </li></ul><ul><li>The sample is self-selected </li></ul>
    9. 9. What we ’re doing about this <ul><li>Recruiting more local partners </li></ul><ul><li>Backing up the survey with additional metrics </li></ul><ul><li>Representative surveys </li></ul>
    10. 10. Overall US scores Satisfaction With Life 70 Psychological well-being 78 Physical health 67 Time balance (*) 43 Community vitality & social connection 65 Access to education (*) 55 Cultural vitality 64 Environmental quality & access to nature 46 Governance 57 Material well-being 73
    11. 11. What matters to people?
    12. 12. Material deficiency does matter
    13. 13. Why is this important?
    14. 14. Seattle is unevenly healthy
    15. 15. Satisfaction with the environment
    16. 16. Health vs Environmental Quality <ul><li>Health scores </li></ul><ul><li>Environmental Quality scores </li></ul>
    17. 17. Young people tend to be time-poor
    18. 18. Young people are less satisfied with their communities
    19. 19. Conclusions <ul><li>Our survey shows some paths away from the treadmill of economic growth for its own sake </li></ul><ul><li>Taking the survey encourages people to think about how they are doing, in a deeper way than “how much stuff do we have?” </li></ul>
    20. 20. For more information <ul><li>Read about the project: http://sustainableseattle.org/sahi own website coming soon to http://happycounts.org/ </li></ul><ul><li>Take the survey: http://sustainableseattle.org/survey/GNH/en/ </li></ul><ul><li>Email me with questions: [email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>These slides can be downloaded from http://www.slideshare.net/sustainableseattle </li></ul>