For environmental activist Tim Higgs, being a contagious agent who spreads the “green bug” in Kaohsiung is exactly what he has in mind.
The 26-year-old Higgs, who hails from Ontario, Canada, got involved in the global environment protection movement because of his experience working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as in the private sector, on energy and water efficiency in Canada.
“I loved my job because it was something that made you feel good about yourself when you went to work in the morning,” he said, referring to his job in Canada.
“Moreover, I was constantly learning new things each day on the job,” he said, adding that he missed that feeling when he moved to Germany.
But even there, he was inspired by the German government's commitment to green energy and the people's love for the Earth, he said.
When he moved to Kaohsiung last year, he said he was greeted not only by the area's famous southern hospitality, but also by the heavy smog that enveloped the city.
“You don't need a big reason to want to do something for the environment here in Kaohsiung. Just look around you or breathe in the air in the city,” said the English teacher, recalling the time when he lived in an apartment downtown, where he could not even open the windows without smelling exhaust fumes from heavy traffic.
“Within in a day, there would be a layer of dirty black grime so thick that you couldn't dust off. The pollution was in your face all the time and you just couldn't escape from it,” he said.
Instead of moaning and groaning about the constant battle with the smog-filled air and the litter, Higgs decided to roll up his sleeves and go to work by organizing the KHH Enviros, a community-based group to educate the public about ways to “greenify” the city.
Higgs used a technique called “community-based social marketing,” which involves engaging the community from a market perspective.
“What you do is first find out everything you can about the problem you are seeking to solve. Once you have done that, you find out about the barriers that are stopping people from doing a behavior that you want them to do,” he said.
Take littering for example, he said, a big barrier to people disposing their garbage properly is the low number of public garbage cans.
Taiwan's trash pick-up system presents another problem to making people more environmentally conscious, he said.
The next step to shaping public behavior is to get them to change the way they view themselves — from ordinary citizens that are detached from the movement to “green people” who are committed to cleaning up the city in a sustainable manner.
Higgs and his group of volunteers do this by passing out stickers that say “Greenhead.”
“This might sound simple but it is an effective method. Having the sticker on your scooter, you are telling the world that you are an 'environmental person,' which means whenever someone asks you about it, you either have to strengthen the identity inside yourself or discard it. We find that most people do the former,” he said.
In addition to organizing projects such as beach clean-ups, the group offers various “green tips” on its monthly newsletters to raise public awareness that protecting the environment is often easier than many would think.
Higgs said one of the goals of KHH Enviros is to be able to partner up with the city government on different city beautification projects.