Which Eco-Type Are You? (Hint: They’re all good)

Male superhero recycling his old stuffOne 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.

Have You Heard? Word of Mouth Empowers Green Behavior Change

2 women chatting over a fence
Good, old-fashioned word of mouth

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!

Nurturing Your Influencers: 3 Green Lessons from the “Dancing Guy” Video

dancing guy videoThere’s a cool video that has been circulating for a few years, affectionately called the “Dancing Guy” video. “Dancing Guy” originated as a TED talk by Derek Sivers, and in a fairly short time the two official versions of the video have been viewed over three million times. Now used in M.B.A. programs to teach about entrepreneurship, it’s also got some great lessons for behavior change outreach:

Here are three ways the shirtless Dancing Guy can help us with environmental outreach:

Be easy to follow. It’s easy to make behavior change outreach hard. All those exceptions, what-ifs, and “it depends” can get in the way of those who are ready to follow. When planning green outreach, see how you can prioritize the main behavior you want to promote, then simplify your message.

Nurture your first few followers as equals. For green behavior change, your first followers are usually idealistic, community-minded early adopters who want to help. Consider how you can enable them to spread the word about food scrap recycling, water conservation, or whatever your target behavior is, by providing tools, encouragement and eventually, recognition.

A movement must be public. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. In the case of your agency, that may mean getting out in the community by staffing events and talking to your constituents face-to-face. Or maybe it means engaging in social media conversations with other community organizations, or sponsoring a flash mob downtown.

That’s just a few of the lessons we see from the shirtless Dancing Guy – do you see others? In any case, here’s to the leaders, the first followers, and creating a movement that matters.

P.S.—For those of you skeptics out there, it looks as if the video really was not staged; see here.

 

Our April Fool’s Quiz Answered

Our April Fool’s quiz asked readers to say which of four possible waste reduction innovations was true:

4 waste reduction scenarios
A, B, C or D?

A. Self composting organics carts in Abu Dhabi,

B. Pneumatic tube waste system in Germany,

C. Recycling drones program in San Jose, or

D. Cat hair balls in the organics stream in Portland.

The right answer is B!  There is, as some of our commenters pointed out, a long history of using pneumatic tube systems to collect trash. The practice began in Sweden, and has been used since in several towns in Europe, at least one Olympic Village, and even at Disney World. Our own Stefanie Pruegel let us know that the system installed in Munich for the 1972 Olympic Games is still in use, now serving the 3,500 condos created from the Village once the games were over. She knows this because her mother lives in one of the buildings.

We were delighted by the erudite and thoughtful responses of so many of the commenters. Of the 16 “votes” received, six picked B, followed by three each for A and C, two for D (ah, those cat lovers!), and one for None of the Above. Thanks for taking up the challenge and responding with such care.

One thing the blog and your responses made clear: When it comes to waste reduction (by which we mean all of the 4RS— not just “reduce”/prevention), there are many right answers…and some have not yet been discovered. No fooling!

(In case you were wondering: the April Fool’s blog author, Avril Poisson, is not a new Gigantic staff member; it’s just a play on words from the French version of April Fool’s, Poisson d’Avril.)

 

Cat Memes, Recycling, and Lessons Learned: Our New Year’s Poll Results

At Gigantic, we always try to be creative and light-hearted, so when it came time to send a New Year’s greeting to our email list, we decided to try something a bit different: a greeting with a link to a five-second poll, asking folks to vote on which of the two images (below) they would most likely click:

composting fruitcakeOur greeting was sent to Gigantic’s email list and posted via Facebook and Twitter. We were delighted by the response: a 46% open rate on the email, a whopping 64% click-through rate, 101 poll votes and over a dozen comments on the blog. We know via Analytics that most of the visitors on January 6 (the day we published the poll) were new to our website, and that on average, folks stayed on our site nearly one minute — not bad for a 5-second poll!

Our original intent was to draw attention to the popularity of cat memes  and to suggest that pop culture knows a thing or two about spreading ideas. Well, you surprised us. The winner is … Option A! Receiving 58 percent of the votes, this more serious image showed a stale fruitcake going into a typical organics pail for composting. The adorable kitty, juggling the fruitcake before tossing it in the bin, garnered only 42 percent. This startled us on several counts (we thought the kitty was cute and was the obvious choice for attracting more eyeballs), and as we analyzed the results, we drew several lessons:

Clarity matters. Several comments argued that more specificity was needed in the kitten image, noting that it wasn’t clear that the fruitcake was destined for the bin in Option B. Our text asked two questions: “Which image are you more likely to click?” and then “Which image do you find more memorable and effective for getting out the food scrap recycling message?” In hindsight, we realize that combining “memorable” and “effective” confused the issue. Our intention was to illustrate the importance of getting attention before providing information; our wording needed work. Which leads us to:

Testing matters. Had this been a “real” campaign, we would have spent a lot more time designing our objectives and creating alternative messaging. Ideally we would have run a pilot, testing images, messages and the manner of distribution to match the kind of data we wanted to elicit.

Engagement matters. Before we can deliver any message, we have to cut through the “noise” and get attention. The volume of response, via email opens, click-throughs, and blog comments, far outran previous e-blasts to our clients. Frankly, this was one of our goals: to test how and if we could stand out amid the dozens of emailed New Year’s greetings. We focused on a short, punchy subject line that emphasized a time-limited response and a request for assistance (“help our research by taking this 5-second survey”). This probably aided our open and click-through rates.

Once we drew visitors to the blog post, we included the kitten picture as a way of drawing the eye, because we know the best messaging in the world won’t get through if we can’t attract attention. While the image in Option A may have been more clear, we note that much of the reaction centered around the kitten. Does this mean we’re suggesting that everyone should use kittens in their recycling campaigns from now on? Not at all. But paying attention to what’s “hot” in pop culture could yield some great outreach ideas that might lead to an increased waste diversion rate (or whatever your particular goal is).

As with all campaigns, we resolve to take this learning and build upon it for future efforts. Thanks to all who voted, and may your 2014 be filled with fun and effective green behavior change campaigns, with or without kittens!

Selected comments:

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Social Media for Environmental Outreach: 6 Commandments and a Golden Rule

goldenrule_e0b6a47365d17e9424c830816a7e70c3Agencies focused on green behavior change — such as recycling, energy use, and water conservation — have a lot on their plates. Tackling the ravenous, always-open maw of social media can seem a daunting task to add to that already bulging to-do list. But if your goal is to reach people at a time and place where they’re likely to be receptive, social media merits a prominent place on that list of tasks.

Here are six commandments that may help guide your agency’s social media tactics and conserve time and money:

Commandment #1—Thou Shalt Not Attempt To Be All Things To All People.  You may think that you need a presence on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Vine and Tumblr (wait, what about Reddit? Google+?), but that is nearly impossible with limited time and resources. It’s also unnecessary. Pick one or two channels, based on where your target audience is, and where chances are good they will be open to messaging about waste, recycling, energy, etc. Got lots of great visuals of re-use projects for the home? Consider a Pinterest account. Have a grants program aimed at helping local businesses streamline operations? Look to LinkedIn and Twitter. Study each channel’s advantages and culture, and pick the best fit for your overall outreach goals. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself reaching that choir and making your campaigns sing.

Commandment #2—Thou Shalt Not Be Boring. Effective social media is a many-way street. Social media audiences, by definition, expect the channel to be interactive and responsive.  Treating it like a bulletin board (“Here’s our new program”; “Do what we say”) will eventually cause your audience to tune you out. This leads us to …

Commandment #3—Thou Shalt Provide Relevant, Interesting Content. Content marketing is king these days, and that quirky infographic, eye-catching image or catchy video is key to capturing the eye of the people you most want to reach. Stick to your core subjects but find an angle that makes those subjects matter to those who matter to you. This leads us to:

Commandment #4Thou Shalt Be Strategic. Having written social media guidelines will streamline your work and allow tasks to be shared or passed on without wheel re-invention. Guidelines should include topics, tone, type and frequency of posts, all the while referring back to your overall outreach goals. This will save time and ensure you present a consistent public face.

Commandment #5Thou Shalt Listen Intently … And Respond. Social media is not about you; it’s about what other people are saying about you and your programs. Use Google Alerts or other tools to listen in on what folks are saying about your issue, good and bad. Find the influencers in your field and build relationships over social media before you ask them for any favors. And if someone is kind enough to praise your program or ask a question, a prompt response demonstrates that your agency listens and cares.

Commandment #6Thou Shalt be Flexible. As with any marketing tactic, evaluation and measurement are essential. If a social media channel is not working (and you’ve given it the old college try), modify your approach. A drop-off in engagement could be an early sign that your message, channel or both aren’t working. The only certainty in the world of social media is that it moves fast, fast, fast. So take a gulp of coffee and look at your analytics (web metrics, Facebook Insights, YouTube views, etc.) with a critical eye.

Lastly, the Golden Rule. No, not a new one. The Golden Rule you already know. “Do unto others …” works in social media as in life. Take the time to support relevant causes, applaud others’ efforts, respond to comments and thank your supporters. Agencies that take the time to participate fully in this amazing global phenomenon will stand out and enjoy remarkable returns.

 

What’s in a Word? Waste Term Survey Shows Consumer Confusion

OK, we admit it: we’re waste word wonks. But when it comes to encouraging correct recycling behavior, words are the key to deeds.CRRA_screenshot

In our work with client agencies, we’ve noticed that some recycling coordinators and others are discouraged: they’ve been doing outreach for years, and yet they feel it hasn’t worked. Some in the industry are turning to new technologies that divert waste without having to address those elusive behavioral issues. We also observe that the average citizen is presented with different terms and other mixed messages about waste. As a first step to addressing this issue, we conducted a survey to test current understanding of waste terms and processes among Californian adults.

We surveyed Californians up and down the state, testing their understanding of terms like “diversion” and “biodegradable.” We also asked people where they would put various discarded items (e.g., an orange rind or used napkin) when presented with bins having different labeling systems.

While most respondents were clear that soda cans go into the Recycling bin, there was significant confusion on where to put items like potato chip bags, used napkins, and especially plastic forks. No wonder there is a lot of contamination in the waste stream when 70% of respondents think plastic forks should go into the Recycling bin. (They are not recyclable in most jurisdictions.) Some 40% of respondents would put a used napkin in a bin marked Garbage, while only 33% would put it in a bin marked Landfill; over one-third would put a used napkin in Recycling.

The most revealing result of the survey came from a question about how consumers understand what happens in a landfill. Here is the breakdown of responses:

What happens at a Landfill? (choose one)

 Answer Options  Response  Percent
Waste is sorted into recyclables and garbage. Recyclables go somewhere else. Garbage is buried there and breaks down. 26.9%
Waste is sorted into recyclables and garbage. Recyclables go somewhere else. Garbage is buried there, where it stays forever. 34.5%
Anything that is thrown away, including garbage and recyclables, gets dumped and most of it breaks down. 33.0%
Dirt is dumped to make usable land for building homes, offices, etc. 5.6%

Some 60% of respondents think that most of what goes to Landfill (whether it be Garbage or even Garbage and Recyclables) eventually breaks down. If a person believes that Landfilled objects break down over time anyway, s/he probably has much less incentive to keep things out of Landfill. I mean, it all goes “away,” right? Wrong.  Clearly, there is outreach work to be done.

Results of the survey were presented at this month’s California Resource Recovery Association conference. And we do mean presented: we used a game show format, with Gigantic staff taking the roles of MC and answer socal team with prizeswonks, with Gigantic principal Shana McCracken giving a fine imitation of Vanna White. Environmental professionals from northern California were pitted against three pros from the southern end of the state, in a test to see if industry insiders could guess how the majority of “regular citizens” responded to particular survey questions. Congrats to the winning team from SoCal, pictured right, who captured the coveted Golden Garbage Can award, and many thanks to the good sports on the NorCal team, below.

the NorCal team

If you would like a free copy of the full Waste Terms Survey results, please email us.

The survey is just one step toward achieving Zero Waste in California. Here at Gigantic Idea Studio, we believe more effective research focused on communications and carefully crafted outreach are both part of the answer. We’re not prepared to give up on the human race just yet.

Recycling the Big Apple (Core): Food Scrap Collection Comes to New York City

The New York City mayor’s office last week announced the rollout of food scrap recycling to City residents after a successful pilot program in Staten Island. apple on a NYC park benchWhile this newest move toward Zero Waste by a big city is encouraging, we suspect that plenty of Zero Waste Outreach will be needed to make this new behavior palatable to blasé New Yorkers. The Big Apple will come up against many of the barriers to food scrap recycling that we struggle with on the West Coast, including countering perceptions of odor and vermin — aka the “yuck factor” — that make introducing food scrap recycling so challenging.

While several headlines focus on New York’s new “leadership” with this move, it should be noted that the City’s broad goal is to divert 30% of waste from landfills by 2017 (and 75% by 2030), as compared to San Francisco’s goal of zero waste by 2020 and the State of California’s goal of a 75% diversion rate by 2020, with an ultimate target of zero waste. New York’s current residential recycling rate is a startlingly low 15 percent.

The City conducted a pilot program in Staten Island, and officials were heartened after reaching a 43% participation rate in the targeted area. However, Staten Island is atypical of New York in that it comprises largely single-family homes. We know from our outreach work that multi-family dwellings (MFDs) are one of the most challenging segments when it comes to organics recycling … and there are a lot of apartment buildings in New York. MFDs lag single family dwellings in recycling rates by a huge margin. In Seattle, for example, single family homes achieved a 70.3% recycling rate in 2010, versus 29.6% for MFDs. Barriers to food scrap recycling in multi-unit buildings include space concerns, the perceived inconvenience, high turnover among residents and building managers, and lack of accountability, as the anonymity afforded by a large apartment building can let people assume that no one will know who’s not using the correct bin.

Believe it or not, curbside food scrap composting has been tried previously in New York, with a pilot program in Brooklyn in the early 1990s. But perhaps the effort was ahead of its time. The pilot wasn’t extended due to concerns that diversion would be low, while the expense and environmental impact of adding another truck route to the waste collection system was high.

In the interim, composting has been championed by a local agency, NYC Compost Project, which supports and promotes community-based composting sites throughout the City. The 20 years that have passed since the Brooklyn pilot likely means a better return on investment

We salute New Yorkers for taking steps toward reducing waste; each diverted pail-full will make a difference. If food scrap recycling can make it there, it can make it anywhere!

Overconcerning Yourself with the Unconcerned? Busting the Myth of “People Don’t Care”

Unconcerned womanMyth: So often we hear that getting people to change their behaviors is futile because people just “don’t care.”

This idea is unfortunate because it can cause you to become discouraged and to give up on outreach. The reality is quite different from this bleak perspective; the number of people walking around with the “don’t care” point of view is actually very small.

Don’t Let One Bad Apple Spoil the Party  

Say you have four relatives coming over for dinner: Grandma Sadie, Uncle Burt, Aunt Priscilla and Cousin Chester. Sadie adores pastry and is an avid cook; Burt and Priscilla both enjoy some form of dessert regularly; Chester hates anything sweet after meals. You could spend the whole day lamenting the fact that Chester won’t like your apple pie and eventually decide to skip dessert altogether. Or you could make the darned pie and delight as the other three gobble it down with glee!

What’s this got to do with environmental outreach, you ask?

“Unconcerneds” by the Numbers

In 2006 the Natural Marketing Institute segmented the U.S. population by degree of concern for environmental issues, and found that approximately 16% falls into the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) segment, the deep green consumers that are passionate about environment and socially responsible business.

Only 14 percent of the population fell into the Unconcerned category.

The Natural Marketing Institute defines “Unconcerneds” as “unconcerned about the environment and society” and “dealing with day-to-day challenges.” These are not the folks to be marketing much of anything to, much less the complex and long-horizon topic of environmental behavior change. If these people are the only ones who could accurately be described as “not caring,” that leaves 86% who do care! As it turns out, 41% care a lot (these are the so-called LOHAS and Naturalite segments). Now isn’t that a more inspiring view of the world?

The idea that people don’t care can become an excuse for not trying, for turning away from outreach to more punitive or technology-based solutions: for giving up on people’s better nature. The fact is, the vast majority of people do care to some degree or another, and with research, careful messaging and loads of patience, change is possible. So cheer up and pass the pie!

The 3 Cs of Plastic Bag Bans Around the World: Culture, Convenience & Cost

 

 

This month, Alameda County joins dozens of California cities and counties to ban plastic bags in most retail establishments. As part of outreach to prepare the public, events like reusable bag giveaways were conducted, right. Plastic bag bans have picked up steam around the world. Entire countries, from Rwanda to Ireland, have implemented bans to reduce the environmental scourge of those oh-so-convenient plastic bags.

Outreach (beyond enforcement of penalties) needs to play a key role in bag ban success. Is there an optimal scope for the ban, the best time frame for phasing in, the most effective messaging to gain acceptance? It looks as if bag bans, like so many other measures aimed at changing behavior, are affected by the 3 Cs: Culture, Convenience and Cost, as well as the big T: Time. As is so often the case, it takes way longer than might be expected for a simple behavior change to take root and become second nature … but it can be done.

Lessons from the Developing World?

Interestingly, the “developed world” was not a leader in banning plastic bags.  The first country to ban plastic bags was Bangladesh, back in 2002. The impetus for the ban was the dangers of increased flooding and sewage problems as plastic bags clogged the sewer infrastructure. Outreach seems to have consisted of threats:

“After the ban, the government, environmental groups and NGOs carried out awareness programmes on TV and in mass information campaigns, warning offenders that they could be fined up to the equivalent of US$71 and six months of imprisonment for using polythene bags.”

The ban encountered problems due to lax enforcement and a lack of affordable alternatives to plastic for all uses, though jute bags were encouraged. Ten years later, plastic bags are still surreptitiously handed out by some vendors, but plastic is much less of a problem today for the country’s drainage system,  a huge issue for the low-lying nation.

Culture’s Role
Enacting policy takes time: a nationwide ban on plastic bags in Rwanda was proposed in 2005, and passed in 2008 (some plastic bags have been made into soccer balls, right). The ban has been quite effective, as an accepted cultural event was incorporated from the beginning: gathering up plastic bags was incorporated into the nation’s monthly mandatory community clean-ups. Plastic-Free Times reports, “Once the ban passed, locals were encouraged to use the monthly obligatory communal work session, known locally as umuganda to collect all the plastic bags lying around or buried.”

The Burden of Cost

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and still recovering from the massive earthquake of three years ago this month, banned both plastic bags and foam containers last fall. As of October 1, the import, manufacture or marketing of the bags and containers is forbidden. Besides fighting the pollution issues, it is hoped that the ban will spur the local economy to create alternatives: “Importing, manufacturing bio-degradable items will benefit Haiti’s short, mid- and long-term environmental interest,” noted Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. Just as here in California, the ban will disproportionately affect the poorest sectors the hardest, as affordable alternatives to the lightweight and ubiquitous plastic bags are not yet widely available. Regressive effects are a factor in the U.S. as well: in an attempt to correct for this, the Alameda County ordinance on plastic bags exempts those paying with WIC (food stamps) from the ten cent charge for reusable bags.

Making the New Behavior Convenient

Far from the streets of Oakland, the citizens of Delhi, India are struggling with massive environmental challenges, including plastic bag pollution. The city government banned bags in 2009, but the ban did not take, particularly at smaller retail stores, and manufacture and use continued. Last November, a new ban on the manufacture, import, sale, storage and use of all plastic bags, sheets, films or tubs (except for those for biomedical waste) went into effect, with enforcement and penalties to be doled out under the Environmental Protection Act. The New York Times reports that outreach efforts are being incorporated from the beginning: “Government officials are also planning to start an awareness campaign about the separation and recycling of waste, using social networking sites, and will hand out a limited number of jute and cloth shopping bags to select Resident Welfare Associations.”

Different cultures around the world have to approach the issue of pollution differently, taking into account local customs, government structure, and available alternatives. Some days it seems like achieving Zero Waste is a losing battle, but each step toward raising awareness of pollution and its consequences is an advance that will pay off in planetary spades.

For more on bag bans around the world, see Drop the Plastic Bag.

 

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