A review of the Environmental Action Fund (EAF)

Start date:
11th April, 2011
February 2009

The EAF is one of a number of funding streams to the third sector that, in recent years, has sought to support and encourage pro-environmental behaviour change. Defra provided just under £7 million to 35 projects over three years (2005-8), varying between £90,000 and £400,000 per project over the funding period.

The key aims of the EAF were to tackle lifestyles and consumption ‘in the round’ rather than focusing on single behaviours; and to tackle the so-called ‘value action’ gap between awareness raising and the uptake of pro-environmental behaviours.

EAF projects were extremely diverse, in terms of organisation type, the behaviours they tackled and the techniques they used to promote pro-environmental behaviour change. Approaches included facilitating grass roots community action, working with communities of interest or identity (e.g. faith, low income, school groups), with individual households, in and through national membership organisations, within supply chains, and with policy stakeholders.

The scale and scope of the EAF evaluation was extensive, running over the whole three years. In addition to the programme level work, Defra provided independent evaluation support to individual projects so as to enhance the quality of the evidence that was captured. As well as monitoring programme outputs and outcomes in the evaluation, Defra wanted to learn lessons about behaviour change processes, in general and specifically when delivered by third sector organisations in their communities.

The evaluation consisted of two key elements: (1) a formative evaluation of the whole programme by Brook Lyndhurst; (2) an evaluation by each project of its own work. Many of the projects involved used champions or similar, and the insights into what works and what does not gained as a result of working closely with these projects were extremely useful to this project.

EAF activity
Although some achievements may be attributed to more than one source , the amount and diversity of activity that took place under the EAF was considerable. For example:

  • the involvement of at least 78,000 participants;
  • the support of around 190 community action groups (including many new groups);
  • the involvement of at least 3,000 people in EcoTeams; 
  • the involvement of between 5,500 and 6,000 volunteers;
  • the running of hundreds of workshops and training courses;
  • the receipt of pledges from at least 10,000 people;
  • the auditing of hundreds of buildings and installation of energy saving measures;
  • the design of websites that have received hundreds of thousands of visitors; 
  • the creation of a multitude of toolkits and other resources;
  • the development of service infrastructure (e.g. recycling services; service directories);
  • the formation of partnerships with businesses, local authorities and other groups;
  • the distribution of magazines/ other material to hundreds of thousands of individuals/households;
  • the organisation of hundreds of events, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors;
  • the generation of local and national media coverage; and
  • research and development activity.

Behaviour change outcomes
By the end of the three years of EAF funding, participants were doing more than they were before and they were doing so in greater proportions than the general public. Nevertheless, it is obvious that certain behaviours proved a lot easier to change than others.

Key behavioural areas in which projects achieved behaviour change were recycling (encouraging either small to moderate increases in existing behaviours) and energy and water saving (the adoption of many small, low impact behaviours). Indeed, many projects observed they had successfully built on wider shifts in public attitudes towards the environment and achieved impacts where the audience was more ready to change. There were a few bigger changes in certain areas, e.g. establishing supply chains in new products and ‘locking in’ new sustainable behaviours into organisations.

However, it is clear that participation in EAF pushed people further, particularly where they worked in groups. Many of the community action group projects, as well as some of the doorstep projects, appealed to people who were already interested in taking action, but who may have needed a push to get started or to go further.
There were few successes in areas which would have required major lifestyle changes, such as micro-generation, flying and car use. Sustainable food behaviours were seen as complex. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for taking action on food but messages surrounding sustainable food were reported to be confusing (e.g. the contradictory messages pushed to consumers about buying organic and local although both have different carbon implications).

Other outcomes
Projects had an important impact on building personal capacity of participants as well as building community capacity by developing many community action groups and activists, not least the staff and volunteers working on projects (many of whom represent an important community resource). Moreover, many resources have been created which have the potential to increase impact, e.g. knowledge on how to deliver workshops and evaluations as well as toolkits etc; it is essential to ensure this investment in resources and capacity building is built on.

The EAF has brought a great deal of small-scale innovation and re-innovation to tackling behaviour change by developing new products, engagement tools, partnerships and bespoke packages for particular settings. In particular, projects were very successful in transferring standard engagement approaches and tools into their own organisations and projects, and many developed creative packages of measures which were ‘fit for purpose’ to address the opportunities they identified. This ‘innovation’ has enabled projects to develop entirely new activities, work more effectively, extend their reach and better serve their audiences.

An exhaustive list of outcomes, key success factors, barriers and recommendations for future funding streams can be found in the full report on Defra's website.

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