Net shows how green we are

April 5, 2002

A project to explore how the internet can influence the public's impact on the earth's resources has been launched at University College London.

Researchers aim to track the behaviour of 40,000 participants as they learn about, and put into practice, environmentally friendly strategies, from buying low-energy light bulbs to eating organic food.

The one-year project dubbed Home - helping ourselves manage the environment - will be the largest experiment of its kind.

It is the brainchild of Jacquie McGlade, professor of environmental informatics, and Guy Jobbins, a research fellow in environmental informatics and social learning.

Dr Jobbins said: "Most people would like to know more about what they can do to help the environment but think there's little they can do. We are trying to work out what happens when people are pointed towards the right information."

In a broader sense, Home will shine light on the impact of the internet on everyday behaviour.

Participants will be assigned to one of three groups - the first with access only to written information, a second able to communicate with others via email and chatrooms and a third that will meet face-to-face in discussion groups.

Each month they will be offered the chance to change aspects of their life that could reduce their drain on resources.

The scientists will analyse their success and study how the participants used information to make changes.

Those who use Home's webpage will have their interactions mapped out in detail, with the pages they read and the links they followed tracked.

This will allow the team to build a picture of how people from different backgrounds or age groups use the internet and how networks self-assemble.

Dr Jobbins said the results could help with the design of more effective means to communicate environmental information.

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