National Sweater Day mobilizes grannies against climate change

Matt Gardner
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A crack corps of concerned grandmothers is at the centre of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the fight against climate change.

World Wildlife Fund Canada national spokesgranny Gladys turns down the thermostat for National Sweater Day, a campaign urging Canadians to turn down their thermostats by two degrees for one day and wear a sweater instead to help fight climate change. A national granny call centre provides phone reminders by request.

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

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.”

Organizations: WWF, World Wildlife Fund Canada, Loblaws

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Al Bore
    February 05, 2013 - 07:26

    Former Climate Change Believers are Better Planet Lovers As a planet lover and former climate change believer I must say I am happy to be relieved of the burden of condemning my own children to their CO2 deaths in a coming climate change crisis. Only a comet hit could be worse than a climate crisis and you can’t have a little catastrophic climate crisis outside of Harry Potter movies. I am satisfied the crisis not a crisis and I am overjoyed that a climate crisis for our children was a tragic exaggeration and this 27 years of needless CO2 panic will shame us all for the history books. Pollution is real but death for all from unstoppable warming from human CO2 was exaggerated not by science but by politicers and news editors. Science never did say it would actually happen as every single IPCC warning of climate crisis over the last two decades is qualified with “maybe” and “could be” etc. The worst crisis imaginable needs certainty not “maybe”. Science agrees; “climate change is real and is happening and could cause a climate crisis including complete unstoppable warming of the entire planet Earth.” Yes “could” and not one single scientific paper says it will be imminent or impending or inevitable or certain or unavoidable or assured or guaranteed or even just “will happen” instead of their “might” and “could be”. “Help my house could be on fire maybe.” The ultimate crisis needs the ultimate proof and not “maybes”. Deny that and if threatening your own kids comes as easy as believing a headline, you are no planet lover. If this truly were real crisis wouldn’t the millions of good and honest people in the global scientific community be acting like they condemned their own kids as well to a CO2 He!! on earth? And again; save the little tiny catastrophic climate crisis for the Harry Potter movies. This planet lovers is happy not disappointed a crisis wasn’t real after all and get up to date please? Let’s be real progressives and move on as the rest of the world has: *Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses. *In all of the debates Obama hadn’t planned to mention climate change once. *Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets ruled by corporations and trustworthy politicians *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit). We were all part of the “Reefer Madness” of climate blame; controlling the weather with human sacrifice of modern lifestyle and taxes. It was pure collective insanity and truly a full war crime for condemning billions of innocent children to the greenhouse gas ovens of an exaggerated climate crisis. We couldn’t continue to love a planet with fear forever.