The City of Sydney’s April 2017 newsletter, letter box dropped to its local community and published online, speaks volumes about changing attitudes to low carbon living and energy creation. It confirms progress is definitely being made.

The newsletter’s introductory article, signed by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, is entitled Capital city mayors push for local energy distribution and discusses the importance of changing old rules in order to break down the barriers to local energy distribution to communities through renewable energy sources like solar.

“Local solar power, for example, gets charged at the same rates by the grid operator as power transported hundreds of kilometres from remote stations – even though the solar power is usually used by neighbouring buildings, reducing the load on high-voltage poles and wires, saving on costly upgrades,” says Moore in the article.

She advises that the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors (which Moore chairs) has made a submission to the Finkel Review, “…urging the Federal Government to align the National Electricity Objective with Australia’s climate policy and targets, and lift regulations inhibiting distribution of locally generated power.”

Such communication about solar energy and local distribution is a direct reflection of the attitudes of many individuals, as well as leaders, who live in the community.

Sydney, like many cities around the world, has seen changes in attitudes over the last decade as the push toward sustainability has grown. The City of Sydney, for example, is taking the plunge by committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent and to meet 100 per cent of electricity demand through local energy generation by 2030 – with 70 per cent coming from tri-generation and 30 per cent from renewable energy.

Low to zero carbon living goals and projects like Sydney’s, whether run by local government, individuals or research groups, use a variety of methods to communicate their progress to the people, such as physical newsletter distribution, online social media platforms or through mainstream media via a news story. All have their worth. They are all effective ways to reach the public, get them involved and educate them about how we can all be a part of creating low carbon communities.

But attitudes cannot just be changed from the top down. People do not just want to be told what to think; they want to feel like they are part of the change, and social media plays a key role. In the social media sphere, people can discover what experts, celebrities, organisations or friends are doing to live a low carbon life, plus they can share their own experiences. Even if one person reads it, learns something new and changes their behaviour or attitude, it is worth it.

Recent research into media and communication strategies for low carbon living showed home renovators had a layered, plural media consumption over many devices and were extremely interconnected. Through these media, they developed and informed their ideas, planning, design, decision-making, documentation and building works. From television programs such as “The Block” to Facebook and Twitter feeds, we see people engaged in conversations surrounding a variety of issues connected to low carbon living and renovation.

For example, the research found that public conversations online using hashtags #solar and #sustainability led with over 100,000 tweets and dominated #greenenergy (2,500) and #lowcarbon (just over 1,000) whilst #reno recorded over 30,000 tweets.

So, all power to the hashtag, which is definitely changing the way we seek information and find out who is saying what and where. Just click on the hashtag and all is revealed!

The point is, however, that this is just part of the way people communicate and share their knowledge. As with the renovators, we are all using a variety of mediums to communicate and receive information. As the report says: “Building on media conversations through a diverse network of intermediaries has the potential to engage with a wide range of renovators about energy efficient renovations.”

And so it probably is with the general public as well.

Another way people can be influenced is via feedback about their behaviour, for example when it comes to their own personal energy consumption. If you are told via your energy bill what you are using and when, this can be an eye-opener, particularly if you have a large family and consume a lot of energy. Research shows that direct feedback results in higher energy savings compared to indirect feedback: five to 15 per cent and zero to 10 per cent respectively. Also, the more regular the feedback, the better it is at reducing energy consumption.

In relation to attitude change, the 2016 edition of The Climate Institute’s long running benchmark Climate of the Nation research, which consisted of a national Galaxy poll of over 2,000 people plus focus groups, revealed that public support for renewables and therefore a desire to live low carbon lives, is growing.

Many polled also expected government leadership – like that of City of Sydney – to take action on climate change, with 90 per cent believing responsibility for action sat at the federal government level, 67 per cent saying they should lead, and 23 per cent saying they should contribute. Just three per cent said they should take no action.

This research also reported that 65 per cent of people wanted Australia to be a world leader in finding climate change solutions – the highest since 2008’s 76 per cent, and up from 52 per cent in 2012. Overall, it said Australians want more clarity about what individuals and communities can do to help, with 68 per cent of people thinking individuals and households should be contributing to action on climate change.