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The One-Tonne Challenge Study

Subject Matter

The Climate Change Action Plan for Canada encourages all Canadians to be part of the effort to meet the targets set out under the Kyoto Protocol. The challenge raised in the Action Plan is for Canadians to do their part by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of one tonne. In an effort to mobilize Canadians, the federal government developed The One Tonne Challenge (OTC) concept. Before going ahead with the concept, Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada, the lead departments on this file, wanted to conduct qualitative research to explore the perceptions of Canadians vis-à-vis The One Tonne Challenge. In particular, the research objectives were to assess overall reaction to the concept, comprehension of the concept, likes and dislikes with respect to the concept, likelihood of participating (including motivations to act), the type of information people would want to receive about the challenge, communications and implementation suggestions, reaction to potential slogan or tagline options, and identification of who is most credible to deliver related messages. The results were used to further develop the program, as well as related communications strategies, materials and messages to motivate Canadians to accept the challenge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by one tonne.


A set of 12 focus groups was conducted, with two groups in each of the following: Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. All groups were conducted with members of the general public, and consisted of a mix of participants by age (30-60 years old), gender, household ownership (at least two-thirds were homeowners), use of a vehicle (at least three-quarters were drivers), and occupation. One group in each city included people with high school education or less, the other consisted of people with post-secondary education. People from a mix of ethnic backgrounds were recruited in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver (other cities also, although quotas were less firm). Government employees, people “very” or “not at all” active in terms of environmental behaviours (using a 7-point scale), and people not comfortable reading/interpreting written material were screened out. Participants were asked to arrive 30 minutes before the start of the focus groups in order to review a short document that presented information about The One Tonne Challenge. Once they had finished reading the document, participants completed a short questionnaire. The Montreal groups were conducted in French, the rest in English. Between 8-10 participants took part in each group. Focus groups were selected for this research because of the need for qualitative data (i.e. learning not only what people think about the program, but why, etc.). Focus groups also provided an effective environment for reviewing taglines and generating ideas through group dynamics, and offered the client the opportunity to observe the proceedings and participants’ reactions.

This study involved a number of challenges:

  • Since the research explored Canadians’ perceptions of a program about which they had no prior knowledge, and which has the potential to be quite abstract and complex, it was crucial to ensure that it was understood as well as possible. To address this, participants were provided with balanced, straightforward, brief information about the OTC concept.
  • While it was important to provide participants with explanatory information on the OTC concept, it was also important to ensure that this not interfere with the time available for the group discussions (since there was a lot to cover). This was addressed by asking participants to show up 30 minutes before the start of the group to review the document.
  • While focus groups provide an ideal forum for idea generation, group dynamics can also overly influence individuals’ perspectives. In order to limit/contain the potential impact of group influence on assessments of the OTC, participants were asked to complete a short questionnaire, identifying their overall reaction to the program in advance of any group discussion.
  • There was widespread interest in this research among numerous federal departments and agencies. However, resource constraints limited the number of individuals able to observe the proceedings at the focus group facilities. This was addressed by providing phone links that allowed for remote listening.
  • Not all Canadians have the same opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As such, recruitment focused on people in ‘heavy emitter’ groups (i.e. owners of a house and motor vehicle[s]). This ensured that the feedback was obtained from Canadians that the OTC program is intended to mobilize.
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