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Voting with your voice: why elections should be shaped by policies, not parties

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After a successful debut in the 2010 general election campaign, Vote for Policies is back for 2015. Its creator Matt Chocqueel-Mangan is on a mission to help people in Britain – and eventually around the world – find their voice in politics. 

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014.

Mention politics to most people, and the response you get will likely either be one of apathy or anger. They’re all the same, politicians are liars, my vote won’t make a difference. It’s difficult not to have sympathy with such views – particularly in times of austerity when certain decisions made at the top can be the difference between some people eating or going hungry.

Another problem is who to vote for at a local, national and European level. For some people this decision is easy – they stick with the same party they’ve voted for previously or the one their parents vote for. For others, it’s a bit more difficult. On top of their indifference with politics generally, the mainstream parties are often very similar on many issues. This somewhat explains why voter turnout numbers continue to be poor in anything but general elections (which itself only attracted two-thirds of the population in 2010).

Actually understanding what a party stands for is becoming increasingly difficult. Between the Hollywood-style leaders’ debates and the biased national press offering piecemeal bits of information at best, how does someone really vote for what they believe in?

Step forward, Vote for Policies: an online blind taste test that strips away the ideologies, personalities and squabbling associated with party politics, and instead allows people to choose parties based solely on what they stand for. Party logos are cast aside and users are encouraged to select which policies best align with their personal beliefs. Born out of creator Matt Chocqueel-Mangan’s concern that he didn’t really understand the difference between any of the parties, nearly 370,000 people completed its survey ahead of the 2010 general election.

Its results were fascinating – not least because it was the Green party’s policies, with 24.74% of the votes, that came out on top. Labour (20.26%) and the Lib Dems (17.28%) were second and third respectively, while the Conservatives – the party that actually went on to scoop the most votes in the actual election – was fourth with 15.06%. There is clearly a mismatch between politics and what people believe in.

Matt Chocqueel-Mangan, founder of Vote for Policies

When setting up Vote for Policies, Chocqueel-Mangan, who has been creating websites since 2000, approached the issue of voter engagement as he would in his day job. “In my line of work, when there’s an engagement problem, you don’t blame the user, you blame the usability”, he says. Rather than assuming people don’t want to take part or are unable to express an opinion, I found a way to make it easier.”

Interest in his enterprise rocketed in the weeks leading up to the election in 2010 – so much so that the website’s servers crashed because of the volume of traffic (Chocqueel-Mangan reckons the site would have doubled its users without the technical problems). Meanwhile, his concept was praised by the Financial Times, the Guardian and Channel 4 News, among other news outlets.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether the Vote for Policies survey results actually influenced voting habits when it came to polling day. Chocqueel-Mangan recalls one woman who used the site and who – to her surprise – came out most closely aligned to the Green party’s policies, despite having voted Lib Dem previously. Determined to vote according to her beliefs this time, she set off to the polling station. On the way there, she saw an orange poster and decided to vote for the Lib Dems again instead. “In that moment, I learned just how entrenched our voting behaviour can be”, Chocqueel-Mangan says.

Anecdotally, he says that over half of the people who took the survey were surprised with their result – like the Lib Dem voter who came out Green and Chocqueel-Mangan himself, who went on to vote for a party he hadn’t voted for previously. Meanwhile, he believes a higher percentage selected the policy of a party that surprised them greatly. One of the improvements planned ahead of 2015 is to ask this question specifically, as well as following up with users to see if they voted according to the survey. However, it will continue to stress that its surveys are not recommending users vote for that party; they’re simply saying that people should start with a meaningful, rational basis on which to make a decision.

Chocqueel-Mangan says, “If you don’t feel that the party can deliver those policies, or actually there are other policies that they may deliver but you feel strongly against, that’s up to you. You may not believe in their leader, for example. But until you understand what their policies are, don’t even think about choosing a party based on the personality of their leader.”

Asked about why the Greens fared so well in the survey, he adds it could have been any party that led the way – though there is a clear trend with people choosing progressive policies and parties. What the results showed as well was how crucial party manifestos could be if voters actually took the time to read through them.

As for the parties themselves, Chocqueel-Mangan had helpful responses from all but Labour and the Conservatives. The Greens, understandably, were very active and used the results in their pre-election PR. Meanwhile, someone associated with the BNP – though not necessarily an employee – actually took the time to fill in bogus surveys as a means of fixing the results. Chocqueel-Mangan recalls seeing the party race into fourth place one day, quickly realising it was a hacker. He took the results out and blocked the IP address – but not before a screenshot of the temporary result had appeared on the BNP’s website.

The 2015 election may be the next big event on the Vote for Policies calendar, but Chocqueel-Mangan has big plans to widen its scope – starting with making it financially sustainable. His long-term goal is to transform the election-only survey into an online service for non-governmental elections, whether that’s clubs, schools, universities, membership organisations or charities. Ultimately, it’s about making democracy more accessible and representative of views. He concludes, “People actually do care and do want to get involved – and they do have their own opinions. It’s just about helping them find that voice.”

Photo: Garry Knight via Flickr

Further reading:

If we voted for policies at elections, and not parties, the results might surprise us all

Sustainability could hold the key to 2015 general election result

The people’s manifesto

Green policies beat Brown’s (reds, blues and yellows)

The Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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