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Sports Clubs are Motivators

Changing one’s own behaviour is difficult. But what happens when a club encourages its members to do so? Researchers at the ZHAW and ETH Zurich have looked into this and made interesting discoveries.

Summary of the research project “Promoting energy-sufficient behaviour in cities”.
The switch from car to bicycle could work well in sports clubs.
The switch from car to bicycle could work well in sports clubs. Shutterstock
At a glance

At a glance

  • When it comes to energy campaigns, sports clubs and other social groups can assist in reaching a wide audience.
  • Energy campaigns have a lasting effect if they provide not only information but also the opportunity to test and experience energy-saving technologies and lifestyles.

The successful achievement of the Energy Strategy 2050 objectives depends primarily on the Confederation and the cantons. But Swiss cities also have an important role to play: in Switzerland, four out of five people live in urban areas. Observing the use of e-bikes can serve to monitor the success of large-scale environmental campaigns in cities. Although many people now abstain from using their cars and have switched to electric bikes, the urban offer does not reach all population groups.

By car or by bike to sports training sessions?

The question that needs to be answered is: how well can this urban population be effectively reached with energy campaigns? Researchers at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and the ETH Zurich have investigated whether sports clubs can act as implementation partners, based on their large number - there are over 20,000 sports clubs in Switzerland. To date, these clubs have not acted as ecological motivators.

More praise for a greater impact

For this project, the researchers worked closely with the three cities of Baden, Zug and Winterthur, and developed three different studies. The aim of the first one was to encourage sports club members to use their bikes to go to training sessions. For this purpose, the city of Winterthur organised a competition between various sports clubs.

The motivation induced by the clubs had a positive effect: during the six weeks of the competition, club members used their bicycles much more often to get to training sessions, and practically no one travelled by car. A participant survey shows that the stronger the social norms within the team to abstain from using a car, the greater the motivation.

Experiencing new forms of mobility sparks interest

A second study focussed on the promotion of e-bikes by means of a campaign in which motorists could test such a vehicle during two weeks. One year after the campaign, test persons still remembered e-biking well and recommended that people they know should also try it. More than half of the participants also stated that they had been using their car less often since the campaign. In addition, after having tested an e-bike, the test persons more often associated typical everyday mobility situations, such as commuting, with the e-bike than with the car. After one year, this effect was even more pronounced than immediately after the trial phase. "This indicates that testing an e-bike can change mobility habits," explains Corinne Moser, head of the study at the ZHAW School of Engineering.

"Hooray, new showerheads!"

A third study, conducted at the Geiselweid swimming pool in Winterthur, shows that gentle social pressure in settings other than sports clubs also leads to success. During two weeks, stickers sporting the slogan "Hooray, new showerheads!" were displayed near the shower cubicles.

These newly installed showerheads consume half as much energy as conventional models because they run on half as much hot water. An additional sticker encouraged bathers to take action: “Try them at home too...”.

The researchers asked pool patrons what they thought about the new showerheads. And this experiment also revealed that one in six respondents ordered the new showerhead.

Adequate mentoring leads to a significant impact

The researchers come to a differentiated conclusion: campaigns implemented by clubs are not a cure-all when it comes to raising environmental awareness. However, it is possible to reach new target groups by investing sufficient time and resources in projects.

Contact and Team

Prof. Dr. Bettina Furrer

Gertrudstrasse 15
8401 Winterthur

Prof. Dr. Bettina Furrer


Dr. Yann Blumer

Vivian Frick

Dr. Carmen Kobe

Dr. Corinne Moser

Dr. Roman Seidl

Prof. Dr. Michael Stauffacher

Uros Tomic

All information provided on these pages corresponds to the status of knowledge as of 12.06.2019.