Commitment Group Concept

“Political will is a renewable resource” – Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth.

A commitment group helps its members make and keep commitments toward a common goal.

Primary objective

To help group members make and keep commitments to action that will reduce global warming, to help create and sustain the personal and political will to act now.

Side effects

Make friends, influence people, develop group cohesion and identity, find a larger purpose in life, get group discounts on environment-related products.


Membership in the commitment group is strictly voluntary, but is contingent on compliance with all rules and regulations. Members may leave the group at any time, for any reason.


The commitment group will adopt reasonable, achievable monthly action goals in domains related to climate change, for instance political action, energy consumption, recycling, use of public transportation, hosting meetings, etc. Upon joining the group, each participating household gets 3 points. The basic requirement to maintain membership is that each household make and carry out one or more monthly action commitments in one or more domains. Members report their action to the group and get one point for each fulfilled commitment. Failure to follow through on a commitment results in a point subtracted. Any household falling to zero points loses their membership, but can rejoin after a probationary period (purgatory) as decided by the group. 


Households will be recognized by the group for various levels of fulfilled commitment as measured by point totals, e.g., “member in good standing,”  “altruist,” “super-altruist,” “climate saint.”


Households must 1) keep evidence to back up their claims to have fulfilled their commitments and 2) be willing to be audited for this evidence (e.g., show that all light bulbs in the home are in fact low energy models). The group will deputize members to conduct occasional random audits to ensure compliance, with permission of the member being audited. Granting permission for the audit is a condition of maintaining membership. 


It’s easy to make verbal commitments to action, but far more difficult to follow through on them. People often need help motivating themselves, and the purpose of a commitment group is to provide external supports that make it easier to keep commitments. Making yourself publicly responsible to a group of like-minded peers with a common objective, namely to reduce global warming, should provide significant additional motivation. Reporting the fulfillment of goals to the group will motivate action since you’re maintaining your reputation for following through, as measured by keeping your point total above zero. There’s also a friendly competitive element as well, to see who can accumulate the most points in a given time period. 

The accountability requirement (random auditing) is necessary so that members know others aren’t cheating the system by false reporting. Suspicion of “free riders” can undercut motivation, so the threat of being audited keeps cheaters in check, which in turn helps to sustain group morale. Although honor systems might sound noble, they fall prey to those who want membership without paying the dues, which in this case is real action on climate change.

The potential benefits to members go beyond getting help with motivation, of course.  A commitment group can be a new source of friends, a chance for casual socializing, an opportunity to network on shared interests, and a conduit for community involvement and action on other issues.

Scaling up

If the commitment group concept works, it can be scaled up beyond the neighborhood. Like Mardi Gras krewes, local commitment groups can compete for public recognition at the community or state level by producing the greatest change in their members’ behavior. Such friendly competition takes advantage of the same sorts of motivational propensities elicited by team sports. Networks of commitment groups at the local and state level can scale up to higher levels of collaboration and competition. This suggests, finally, something like a Coalition for Collective Responsibility, a national, possibly international coalition of those groups which work for sustainability by the intentional creation of political will. Local groups can be formed as chapters of this larger entity. 

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