The value of citizens’ feedback

In April 2016 we ran a GIS-survey to collect information about citizens’ activities and their environmental perception. The aim was 1) to improve the understanding of emissions from wood burning for residential heating and basis for decision-making processes and 2) raise awareness of the environmental impact of wood burning and urban sustainability.

Building a participatory process

We designed a survey using the cloud service Maptionnaire, and the participants answered it using their computers, smart phones and tablets. The questionnaire was addressed to citizens in Oslo and Akershus with questions around three main themes:

  • Place of residence and characteristics of their living space;
  • Wood burning for residential heating; use of fuelwood for heating, and type of wood stove;
  • Geo-localized information about citizens’ environmental perception;

The distribution of the GIS-survey was carried out using social media (Twitter), stakeholder groups, municipalities, educational centers, associations of senior citizens, NGOs and other networks. We also displayed posters in shopping centers, cafes and restaurants and asked for people’s contribution by providing 1) an online link (Uniform Resource Locator (URL) to the survey) or 2) a Q-code that allowed direct access to the survey.

The distribution was supported by preliminary graphs of the results from the survey to trigger the engagement of citizens answering the survey. We managed to get 500 participants! Thank you all for your feedback!!

Poster in a shopping center promoting the survey. Photo: Susana Lopez-Aparicio/NILU

Economic incentives do not make a difference

The type of wood stove is one of the key variables regarding energy efficiency, as newer stoves are more efficient and lower in emissions than older models. Based on our survey, most of the wood stoves are modern (53%), and unexpectedly we do not observe differences between Oslo and Akershus, as in both counties 23% of the stoves are reported to be old.

In Oslo and since 1998, there is a scrapping payment plan to promote the replacement of old stoves for newer models. The grant varies depending on the place of residence. An incentive of 3000 NOK is granted to residents in central areas of the city and 1500 NOK to residents in other areas within the outermost road ring. Around 8677 wood stoves have been replaced with granted support until 2015. Based on our results, the existence of a scrapping payment plan in Oslo does not seem to increase the share of new stoves compared with areas without grant support. This finding is relevant for the municipalities, as economic incentives towards cleaner stoves do not seem to make a difference.

How many bricks can you make with 1 tons of particles?

Wood burning is responsible of around 50% the particle emissions in Norway, and emissions depend on the amount of wood consumed and the type of stove. Our survey shows how important wood burning is for residential heating in Norway, as our participants reported to have used a total of 200 tons of wood during the winter season between November 2015 and February 2016. Burning this amount of wood for residential heating, results in 3 tons of particles emitted into the air. To get a better perspective, this amount of particles would represent the weight of approximately 1500 standard bricks. 

Pile of bricks. Photo: Wikipedia Common

How do Oslo’ citizen perceive their air quality?

Around 86% of the participants thought that Oslo and Akershus have a problem regarding air quality, and they identified 700 locations as air pollution hotspots, and 300 locations characterized by persistent wood burning smell in winter. We compared the localized reported information with environmental data. The citizens of Oslo and Akershus have a good perception of their environment, as the hotspots show correlation with high pollution levels.

Density map from the reported air pollution hotspots and wood burning smell by citizens.

The individual perception of the environment contributes to the perception of our quality of life, and therefore the results from our study highlight that air quality in Oslo needs to be addressed. Citizen perception of the environment is crucial for the response and acceptance of the implementation of policy measures, such as implementing car-free areas, the ban of diesel vehicles in specific areas or the ban of old wood burning stoves, which may be somehow controversial.

One of the key takeaways of this activity is that we need to open for citizens’ consultation regarding the city environment for understanding activities that result on emissions and for getting citizens input on their perception of the city environment. 

The survey has been improved based on the experience in Oslo and Akershus and will be open to other Norwegian cities in spring 2017.

This activity has been carried out by NILU-Norwegian institute for Air Research, and it is summarized in an research article "Public participation GIS for improving wood burning emissions from residential heating and urban environmental management" published in Journal of Environmental Management in collaboration with Mapita Ltd. and Aalto University.


About the Author: Susana López-Aparicio is the project leader of the iResponse project. She is a senior scientist at NILU working on urban environmental sustainability and is interested in environmental research and urban sustainability.

Twitternick: @SuLopezAparicio