At Gigantic, we work hard to “get inside the heads” of the audiences we try to reach. How difficult is it to get someone to change behavior, even to be aware of that behavior? I experimented on myself last month, when I joined the #PlasticFreeJuly movement, and tried to avoid buying or accepting anything made of plastic for 31 days.
The first thing I noticed was anxiety, and a tendency to over-compensate. Should I stock up on plastic on June 30 so I could get through the month comfortably? What would I have to give up? Just how uncomfortable is this change going to be?
How can a behavior change specialist address her own fears of change and scarcity?
The Thrill of Failure
My first day was a failure, but also a tremendous success. I went out to lunch and ordered a cocktail (it’s OK, it was a Saturday!) The drink came with a straw – I had forgotten to ask for no straw. Disaster in the first few hours of the experiment! I posted about my personal failure to Facebook and Twitter, tagging the restaurant. I was amazed to see several supportive comments, even from “non-green” people with whom I had not interacted in years, saying they, too, were sick of plastic and that I should keep trying. Then, lo and behold, the restaurant responded to me via Facebook, saying that they, too, loved this particular cocktail and from now on would serve it without a straw. Victory! I took away from this experience that it can be more effective to post about one’s own weakness, to acknowledge error, rather than trying to be a brave and mighty eco-hero.
Challenges kept on coming throughout the month. In some cases there were joyous substitutions – I discovered that bread sliced at the bakery and wrapped in paper did just fine in the freezer, so breakfast was set.
Plastic = Convenience
As the month wore on, I realized that plastic equals convenience, and that I had to re-align my idea of what was convenient. Yes, it takes longer to bring your own containers and use the bulk bins of the market. It takes more effort to go to the cheese shop where the owner was happy to wrap my slices in paper – not an option at the supermarket. On the flip side, I had wonderful conversations with folks behind the counter; some were bemused by my requests, some were delighted. But this was an opportunity to connect with people in my neighborhood whom I had, frankly, barely noticed before. How to translate this greater feeling of community to our work?
When To Give Up
In some cases, going plastic-free meant going without. Tortillas and potato chips, indeed all salty junk food, were not an option, unless ordered in a restaurant. I had to cheat in a couple of instances, choosing less plastic over no plastic for things like toothpaste and olive oil. Luckily I don’t take a lot of medicines, but when I ran out of Vitamin D…I caved and bought more in a plastic bottle. I noticed the feeling of guilt and this time I did not share my “failure.”
It’s August now, and I have relented a bit, but the plastic-free exercise has stuck with me. The main thing I took away from July was a heightened awareness of plastic’s never ending presence in our lives. Entire aisles of the supermarket were off limits – which after a while felt quite restful. Connecting this ubiquity with the fact that of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever made, 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste, with no end in sight. After this experiment, I am reminded as we plan campaigns that in many cases we are asking people to change, to give up something, to be inconvenienced. These are big asks. While these changes seem essential and even joyful to those of us in the environmental field, I believe it is essential to integrate humility and understanding into our campaigns, so that people feel understood and supported as we travel together on this journey to more sustainable living.
Effective environmental behavior change—like any behavior change—relies on meeting people where they are. This can mean communicating at the point of action, right where and when the behavior is happening. For instance, a recycling flyer sent to a resident’s home is a fine first touch to raise awareness, but placing recycling information directly on the bins or in the area where trash is being disposed of is an important prompt that is likely to get the best results.
What is the most effective way to display recycling/composting information? While each case is different, there are some general rules that will help increase recycling/composting while reducing contamination:
Use consistent language.
Do you say Carts or Bins? Compost or Organics? Make sure the terms you’ve chosen are used consistently in all your print pieces, including posters and bin labels, and also match the content on your website.
Use pictures and words.
Different people learn and remember differently – some people recall words, others, images. Using both will increase your chances of being clear and memorable. Remember that posters are typically viewed from a some distance away, so make sure images and text are sized large enough.
You probably don’t want to list EVERY single item that can go into the recycling or compost. Choose most common items or those often placed incorrectly. The selection of items also depends on where the poster will be used—items recycled in an office are likely different from those recycled in a restaurant kitchen.
Keep it neat.
A clean and simple layout is most likely to keep the focus on proper sorting. If a poster has too much information it may be perceived as too much effort to understand and get ignored. If you’d like to point to details, include your website URL prominently.
Stay up to date!
Did bin colors change with the new hauler contract, or are you now accepting some items for recycling that you weren’t before? Make sure your print and online collateral match your current program.
For further tips on displaying recycling information, see
A constant challenge in environmental outreach is how to portray an issue in a way that reaches people with varied worldviews. Neuroscientist George Lakoff and the concept of framing has been much in the political news lately, as opposing sides try to create impressions (also known as bias) in their listeners’ minds. Lakoff notes that all communication has frames:
“The elements of the Communication Frame include: A message, an audience, a messenger, a medium, images, a context, and especially, higher-level moral and conceptual frames.”
We know that facts alone don’t change behavior; to succeed, a message needs that emotional element that reaches the deeper parts of our brain. How can environmental outreach frame important issues in a way that reaches, convinces, and persists to make long-term positive change in behavior?
Lakoff gives one example in his blog, suggesting that instead of talking about environmental regulations, we reframe laws as environmental protections.
Framing a concept like food waste should be simple – no one likes “waste,” right?
The message of buying only what you need, using leftovers, and composting what is left is quite straightforward, but we have a long way to go to tackle the huge amount of food that is wasted. Two recent examples show how framing the issue, while acknowledging the facts, can show success.
Activist Selina Juul has worked for years on a multi-touch approach to reducing food waste in her adopted country of Denmark. She recognized that change had to come from all sides: business, government and, most of all, consumers. In this video, she reframes food waste as disrespectful to nature, farmers and to the individual’s own time and money.
Ugly? No, Beautiful!
A more local success story focuses on our friend and colleague Jordan Figueiredo. Jordan’s Ugly Fruit and Veg campaign aims to reframe frequently wasted, less than perfect produce with humor and heart, in order to make what had been rejected, acceptable and even coveted.
Jordan couches his multi-touch campaign work as Funactivism, which counters the view some hold of activists as overly serious or shrill. Jordan successfully uses many of the tools of activism and behavior change: touting simple individual steps, assurance that individual actions make a difference, use of pledges and norming, combined with a top-down approach to companies. He has used charming photos spread via social media to challenge people to change their attitudes about what is “ugly,” reframing ugly fruit and vegetables, and by extension, reframing our view of what is beautiful.
Choosing the most effective way to frame an issue takes research, patience and testing. Most of all, it takes creativity and always remembering that change comes from within, and people act because of what they feel even more than because of what they think.
How will you frame your next campaign?
Are you planning an environmental outreach campaign that includes social media? I hope so! As you probably know, social media is a great way to spread the word about your organization’s activities and to encourage public participation. But “social media” is not a single, uniform bucket. Just as you would plan a different print ad for a publication that reaches high school students than for one that focuses on businesses, so your posts in social media should be guided by who you are trying to reach and why.
How to get started with a channel-specific strategy?
To start, try creating a mission statement for each channel. The mission statements should be based on your organizational goals and the audience you are most likely to reach with each channel. For example, are you trying to reach young people? Snapchat (60% of Snapchat users are under 25) is a good channel to consider. If you’re trying to reach Baby Boomers or businesses, not so much.
Here are some sample mission statements by channel:
We will use Twitter to raise our profile with influencers in the U.S. and beyond.
We will use Facebook to keep our fans updated and informed about our organization’s activities and to provide calls to action to the public.
We will use Instagram to promote the joy of a waste-free lifestyle with the local community.
Our blog provides detail and a personal voice on our organization’s issues and activities for those who already know about us.
Next, tailor your content by channel. Some organizations, looking to save time, make all of their Facebook posts automatically post to Twitter. This may undermine your efforts when your audience and mission are different for each channel.
This doesn’t mean you should not cross-post the same topic in different channels. But it is a good idea to structure the content for your target audience: customize the language and images to achieve your mission.
Measure, Measure, Measure
How do you know if your channel strategy is working? Measure the results and compare your progress to your goals. For instance, your Twitter feed may be focused on reaching influencers. You can then evaluate your Twitter efforts by the number of key influencers who follow or retweet you. (In other words, it may be that the quality of your followers is more important than the number of them.) If your goal is to raise awareness of an issue, then the metric of reach/impressions is key. If your goal is to have users respond to a call to action, you will want to look at both click-through rate and number of clicks.
There is so much more to say about social media strategy, but starting with a channel mission statement is a useful guide when you are creating and customizing your communications. Happy posting!
We’re excited to introduce Nicole Greenspan, our new Associate here at Gigantic Idea Studio! An East Bay native, Nicole comes to us most recently from Stanford University, where she worked for several years in the University’s award-winning sustainability program after completing her undergraduate and graduate degrees in the interdisciplinary Earth Systems Program with a focus on Sustainability Communication and Education. At Stanford, she designed and managed a wide range of projects and programs, spanning waste, energy, water and agriculture. One key project, the now annual Give & Go Move Out Donation Program, diverts over 100,000 pounds of reusable materials from landfill each June. Another, the Sustainable Stanford Internship Program (formerly HSCI), has provided dozens of students the opportunity to work on projects applying their educational background directly to improving campus sustainability. From working with the government in Brazil on climate change education, to promoting best practices in campus sustainability with U.S. Green Building Council, Nicole has a diverse range of experience and skills to inform her work with Gigantic. She recently received her Four Seasons Permaculture Design Certificate from the Regenerative Design Institute.
For the last year and a half, Nicole’s curiosity took her around the world, volunteering and exploring in Costa Rica, Panama, Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia and Australia. This experience helped her learn to communicate, empathize and build relationships with people of diverse backgrounds and cultures. From experiencing the April 2015 earthquake and aftermath in Nepal, to hearing the first hand stories of survivors of the Khmer Rouge, she truly appreciates the importance of community resilience and collaboration in order to solve the wicked problems facing our world today. She is particularly passionate about working with communities to co-create a more just and sustainable future, using tools such as design thinking, community-based social marketing, anti-oppression facilitation and regenerative design. She’s excited to collaborate with such an incredible team and clients, offering her perspective and skillset to an organization that makes such a positive impact on the world. When she’s not at Gigantic, you can find her dancing, backpacking or digging in her backyard garden in Oakland.
Haulers, waste agencies and environmental outreach professionals have been working for decades to improve the U.S. recycling rate, yet overall the country’s recycling rate is around 34 percent – so there is much room for improvement.
Part of the challenge that we see is putting the emphasis on operational facts before attracting people with an emotional appeal. Search for “recycling” in YouTube and you get almost 900,000 results. Most of the top hits focus on how to recycle. Some examine if it works, or problems with recycling. But very few focus on why people should recycle, which is a very important factor in encouraging behavior change. In fact, the video results indicate how we take recycling for granted, assuming everyone is already on board and participating. The truth is, even with established behavioral practices, it helps to periodically boost morale with a new appeal that is fun, moving, or otherwise stirs our feelings.
There’s a kind of taxonomy that emerges if you look at enough videos that encourage recycling. Here are some categories with examples of different approaches, mostly light-hearted, that aim to increase recycling and composting activities:
“Here’s What to Do”
This is a classic “what goes where” video from Livonia, Michigan. The viewer is given no context, no appeal to emotion, just “this is what to do.” (And it’s not so simple, either!). While the information is important, the delivery could be more compelling:
Hot Tunes and Celebrity Sightings
This 1991 classic from an earlier time of recycling outreach has action-packed celebrity sightings and groovy music in an attempt to make recycling cool. The video played on MTV and in move houses and was part of an integrated campaign by the Take it Back Foundation that included classroom curricula and the development of a resolution introduced to the House and Senate to declare April 15 “National Recycling Day.” It’s a great example of use of using a catchy campaign to increase awareness. (Bonus – how many of the celebs can you name?)
This Cal Recycle video combines humor and a self-deprecating celebrity “endorsement” from Ed Begley Jr., as the public is shown that you don’t have to be a star to make a difference.
Some campaigns take the point of view of the stuff being recycled rather than the recycler, as in this video from Keep America Beautiful. It was created following research that showed that only 10 percent of Americans have a recycling bin in their bathroom:
Personifying the Bin
If creating empathy for trash doesn’t help, how about empathy for the recycling and compost bins? Here’s one example from the UK, aimed at making folks more mindful of those useful outdoor bins:
At Gigantic, we thought that creating an organics cart mascot would raise awareness, and use of the green cart when we created this video for the City of Livermore:
We’ll be looking at the use of memorable messaging to increase recycling and composting participation during our session “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting the Message to Matter” at the CRRA conference this August. We hope to see you there!
A stunning art installation featuring the plight of political prisoners around the world got me thinking about, yes, recycling campaigns. In addition to being a moving experience, the @Large exhibit by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei , on now at Alcatraz Island, nicely illustrates the stages we consider when designing a campaign for environmental behavior change. The exhibit takes the viewer along a path, with different appeals and presentations at each step.
People need to come to behavior change through a process, most clearly described by Everett Rogers back in the 1960s in his book, Diffusion of Innovations. His Innovation Adoption Stages model looks like this:
Intentionally or not, the Ai Wei Wei installation follows the stages, leading the visitor from awareness of the issues, through “persuasion” via a multi-sensory deepening of the experience, and finally, offers a concrete action that the viewer can take.
The @Large installation begins at the New Industries Building. It takes several forms, but the initial contact focuses on making the viewer aware of the variety and extent of political imprisonment around the world. The floor of an enormous room is covered with portraits of political prisoners, made from LEGO bricks. At this point, the artist has not assumed that the viewer is ready to do something, but rather provides beautifully crafted “information” in the form of portraits of human faces arrayed across a huge space to raise awareness of the scope of the issue. Books detailing the stories of each of the prisoners are present, but the viewer is not in any way forced to learn more facts and figures. The act of walking the length of the huge room with the 176 portraits “sets the problem” in the mind and heart of the visitor.
The @Large exhibit continues to the cell block building, where the viewer starts to live into the experience of prisoners – visitors are invited to enter each of 12 small, unadorned and definitely not prettified cells. There is nothing to look at, but each cell has a different recording playing, usually of the music or speech of one of the prisoners. By involving the sense of hearing and the physical experience of walking into the tiny, dingy cells, the viewer becomes more fully involved and engaged.
After several more stops, at the end of the exhibition visitors are given the opportunity to write postcards addressed to individual prisoners whose portraits they saw earlier. The sponsoring Foundation notes: “The postcards are adorned with images of birds and plants from the nations where the prisoners are held. Cards are gathered and mailed by @Large Art Guides.”
The viewer has been led through awareness of the issue to persuasion about the problem’s scope and importance, though information and appeals to the emotions. Only at the end is the viewer invited to make a decision to act, by writing a personal communication to one of the prisoners introduced during the first stop of the exhibition. The viewer is not urged to act before s/he has had a chance to fully digest and explore the need to communicate. And by communicating, not to a general, amorphous authority, but to a single individual, the final action becomes that much more memorable.
Not all of our behavior change campaigns can be as beautiful and meaningful as Ai Wei Wei’s @Large, but there is much to admire in the intentional layout of the exhibit that aims to touch, inspire and ultimately, change the viewer. The exhibit ends this month…go see it if you can!
One of Gigantic’s core values, which we review each week in staff meeting, is staying light-hearted in the face of challenges. In our recent New Year e-blast, we decided to use humor to make a serious point: caring environmental changemakers come in many shapes, sizes and flavors, and we need every single one of them. We thought we’d demonstrate our theory of balanced teams by way of a popular current meme: the personality quiz.
Admit it, you take them. We all take them. “Which Harry Potter character is your soul mate?” “Which Disney Princess are you?” “Which animal do you become at lunchtime?” They are addictive, fun, shareable and sometimes, quite revealing. So we created a quiz using a free platform called Playbuzz. For five questions, we created multiple-choice answers, with responses “keyed” to one of four different personality types:
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The answer choices were purposefully playful. “Where do you go to wash your car?” had the following possible responses, paired with their most likely personality types:
Practical Participant: “Self-service car wash business.”
Data Driven: “After careful analysis, I don’t wash it, We’re in a drought. I let Nature wash my car.”
Techie True Believer: “My car is treated with a superhydrotrophic coating – no need to wash it.”
Eco-Evangelist: “Car? What Car? One less car here.”
How did you score? Our Eco-Type list is by no means exhaustive. We know there are more gifts that other Eco-Types bring to the party. While we hope you are pleased with your result, the most important thing is that you had a moment’s fun, and that, while reading this post, you paused to think about your Eco-Team, and how their personality types can contribute to a more sustainable society.
A recent survey by the Consumer Electronics Association has some fairly depressing statistics (for example, 18 percent of consumers say they discarded electronics devices in the trash during the last year, a six point increase from 2012), but another result caught our eye: according to the survey, “nearly half of consumers (42 percent) first learned how to recycle their old devices by word of mouth from friends, family or co-workers.”
Surprising? Not at all. Study after study shows the importance of friends, family and co-workers on influencing all kinds of behavior. Nielsen’s 2013 survey of trust in advertising channels shows that 84% of respondents say word of mouth from family and friends was the most trustworthy form of persuasion. For those of us involved in green behavior change, this is good news, since we usually don’t have the budget for Coca-Cola-style mass media campaigns. However, word of mouth still needs to be made simple in order to get your ideas to spread.
So how to design campaigns that enhance the power of friends and family?
To enable word of mouth, we need to reach people, give them the information they need in an appealing, trustworthy and shareable form, and help them to feel that their sharing will be appreciated. A writer for Forbes describes this as the three E’s: Engage, Equip and Empower.
Of course, word of mouth alone cannot create behavior change, but it can be an important tool in a multi-touch campaign. Some questions to ask while designing our environmental behavior change campaigns include:
Are we being clear? Are we using terms that make sense to our audience? As we’ve seen in our research, it’s not a good idea to make assumptions about what people know about waste or water quality.
Are we providing the tools that people need to spread the word? People will be more likely to spread the word if they are equipped with catchy facts, a story, or shareable content. Is there such a thing as too many facts and data? For spreading messages, the answer is yes.
Have we asked for help? So simple, but so frequently overlooked. Just by saying “Let your neighbors know …” or “Please Retweet or Share,” your messages are more likely to be spread. Thanking people afterwards is even more powerful.
As we plan for new behavior change campaigns in 2015, the Gigantic team will be focused on fostering the thousands of individual conversations, both off and online, that will move us closer to a sustainable world. Let’s spread the word!