Now in its third year, National Sweater Day is an annual effort organized by World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF) and sponsored by Loblaws that asks Canadians to turn down their thermostats by two degrees Celsius for a day and wear a sweater instead. The 2013 event takes place this Thursday.
One of the campaign’s key tools is a “granny call centre” staffed by grandmothers who will call people by request and remind them to turn down the heat and put on a sweater.
“We were trying to think, ‘Who’s the best messenger for the idea of conserving energy and the idea of putting on a sweater?’” WWF director of climate and energy Josh Laughren explained.
“We thought, ‘Well, the previous generation or generations that lived through scarcity really get energy conservation.’ In the stereotype, it’s your grandmother saying, ‘Turn down the heat, close the door, put on a sweater.’ And also, who knits sweaters? At least stereotypically, it’s your grandmother who knits you a sweater.
“So we thought it was just a fun, engaging way to get the message out, and second, since most people who don’t participate don’t participate because they forgot, getting a real phone call from a real grandmother was again just a fun way to get the message home.”
As a means of publicizing National Sweater Day, the WWF has created a mascot of sorts: An official “spokesgranny” named Gladys.
While Gladys herself is a fictional character, the sentiments she expressed during an interview echo the real attitudes of the grannies staffing the Sweater Day call centre.
“All of us lived through a time when we didn’t have this simple way of getting too much heat,” Gladys said, speaking in character. “It was harder when we grew up … Nowadays, people just take it for granted, unless somebody tells them, that all they’ve got to do is turn up that thermostat and they’ll be warm. But that is very, very harmful to the whole of Canada and to the whole of the world, because we keep on … using up all that excess energy.”
Summoning images of the Great Depression, she added, “The way we had to save money in those days, we knew … that it wasn’t a good thing to put up the heat or put another piece of coal on the fire. That coal cost us a lot of money, as well as hurting the environment, even though we didn’t know in those days that we were hurting the environment.”
We were trying to think, ‘Who’s the best messenger for the idea of conserving energy and the idea of putting on a sweater?’ - Josh Laughren
Call centre grannies will be on standby Thursday to pass on this hard-won wisdom to anyone that has requested a reminder. Canadians can book their granny of choice by visiting the National Sweater Day website at www.sweaterday.ca.
Although National Sweater Day is meant as a symbolic way to spread awareness of the need to save energy, the WWF hopes that it will lead to people adopting such measures on a more permanent basis.
Laughren made clear the potential impact of such a widespread change in behavior.
“To put it in perspective … if everyone turned down their thermostat by two degrees -- if all Canadians did -- in the winter, that would save about four megatons of C02 emissions which cause climate change or contribute to it, and that’s about the same as shutting down one full coal plant.”
Despite the limited and symbolic nature of limiting the action to one day, Laughren noted that there is a cumulative effect when many Canadians take part in such actions.
The more people who partake in such mass events, he indicated, the more clout environmental organizations such as the WWF gain when they claim to represent a broad swath of the citizenry.
“Getting 15 million Canadians participating in Earth Hour or millions of Canadians to have supporting Sweater Day, those are really important signals that back up our claims about what we want government and businesses to do,” Laughren said.
“So absolutely, something like Sweater Day on its own is not enough. But make no mistake, we absolutely need to show public support for the kind of changes we need or it won’t happen.”