Shana McCracken and Lisa Duba co-founded Gigantic Idea Studio as one of the first marketing agencies dedicated to environmental outreach. After more than 13 years, Shana is moving on, and she leaves us now with some guiding thoughts as the Gigantic team continues this important work.
As my stint at Gigantic Idea Studio comes to a close, I can’t help looking back at the lessons I’ve learned. The big take-aways? Here are my top three for those working to promote environmental behavior change:
- More people care than you think. Writing off the public with a cynical “People just don’t care” does a disservice to more than just the public. It will also hold your organization back from achieving its behavior change goals. A study repeated annually in the U.S. consistently shows that only a small percentage of the population—hovering around 15%—could really be described as not caring about the environment. The problem is that many of us focus far more than 15% of our time and energy on this small segment, maybe because these people just plain bug us. Projecting their minority views onto the majority also gets us off the hook. After all, if nobody cares, what’s the point in doing outreach, right? In reality, there are plenty who are concerned about the planet. Our job as outreach professionals is to find out what else they need to put this concern into action. Some are confused about the finer points of participation or don’t realize they’re “doing it wrong.” Others want more reassurance that their actions matter. And still others have language or financial barriers. Identify the need and meet it as best you can.
- Norming, norming, norming. You can talk all you want about the merits of different tactics, but if you’re not communicating that the behavior you’re promoting is the norm as you deploy those tactics, it won’t be adopted by anyone but the Innovators. People want to know that what you’re asking them to do will be perceived as normal. So be bold and communicate a message of “everybody’s doing it” verbally, visually, any way you can. Not doing so will prevent green from going totally mainstream. The good news? We’re already there with the basics. We just need to be sure that each time we add a new “ask” to the list, it sounds perfectly ordinary as well as easy.
- Test your assumptions. Similar to the “people not caring” belief, we all have assumptions about how the public relates to our key issue (recycling, pollution prevention, energy conservation, etc.). We think we already know what they understand, how they feel and why they do what they do. Trouble is, without research, we’re probably wrong and, as a result, our outreach will be off-target and ultimately ineffective. The best way to find out what’s really going on inside people’s heads is to ask. Usually this is done by conducting a survey or a series of focus groups. (Have the budget for both? Even better!) Besides finding out what makes people tick, you need to know what they encounter when they finally engage with your organization or issue. For example, does your website deliver what your materials say it will? Don’t expect your constituents to tell you they couldn’t find the information they were looking for. Ghost shop! That means pretend you’re an average user and go through all the steps they would to complete an action or find some information. Better yet: Recruit friends or family members to do this for you. They’re less likely to understand jargon that you may take for granted and won’t have pre-conceived notions about the best path to a given piece of information. If they can’t find it on your site promptly and easily, it’s time to put some energy into improvements. The best part about this method? Anyone can do it and it’s free!
I could go on listing valuable lessons ‘til the proverbial cows came home, but I’m afraid it’s time for me to saddle up and mosey on down the trail. Good wishes and good outreach!
A typical set of curbside recycling instructions can leave residents confused. At this year’s California Resource Recovery Association/SWANA conference in San Jose, Gigantic Idea Studio presented an alternative approach: make it bite-sized.
To kick off our session on behavior change outreach and food waste diversion, Wendy Wondersort (aka our own Stefanie Pruegel) hosted the Sorting Game, with NorCal competing against SoCal to win the coveted Golden Pizza Slice. One team was given a long, complicated list of recycling instructions. The other received more straightforward directions. Can you guess who won?
The Sorting Game helped us demonstrate how too many messages can lead to poor recycling outcomes. To show a real-world example, we presented the concept and results of a single material outreach campaign conducted with our partners at the City of Livermore earlier this year. This “bite sized” campaign focused on one material – pizza boxes – and used multiple tactics to reach residents. The simple instruction: pizza boxes go in the green cart.
To make our outreach message memorable, we created a “story line,” where Binny, the hungry green Organics cart, visits with a Livermore family as a dinner guest and craves the delicious pizza box once the family is finished eating.
The slideshow below goes into detail on the strategy and tactics of this multi-touch campaign, including partnerships with businesses and community organizations, creation of a 30-second video and accompanying contest, and a combination of online and offline tactics to ensure that residents got the message.
Early results show an increase in the number of pizza boxes correctly sorted and a greater confidence in proper disposal amongst residents surveyed. The City of Livermore has been a great partner, and we look forward to piloting more single-material campaigns in the future and continuing to share outcomes.
There were many great questions at the end of our presentation at CRRA, and we wanted to share answers to a few of them:
While focusing on one material, we were able to build a character and storyline around it that we can now leverage for other single-material campaigns. In addition to seeing some positive operational results, the campaign’s contest offered the opportunity to opt into receiving Livermore Recycles e-news updates; two-thirds of all contest entrants opted in to receive these news updates.
Is brand consistency between campaign and program recommended?
In general, it is a good idea to have a consistent look and feel for campaigns launched by an agency, and that was our strategy for this campaign. There may be instances when a more neutral or different campaign branding might be appropriate, if appealing to a segment like young people or those who might be distrustful or fearful of government agencies.
Could this type of campaign/strategy be scaled up to a regional or statewide level?
A bite-sized approach can be scaled up or down, depending on the target audiences. However, a regional or statewide campaign may need to consider leveraging additional or different tactics from a local campaign.
Do you think this type of campaign could be applied to business outreach?
Here are some resources we recommend for further reading on behavior change theory:
Diffusion of Innovations, Everett M. Rogers
Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Doug McKenzie-Mohr
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
Influence, Robert Cialdini
There’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.
Every so often we run into people doing important environmental work who deserve some recognition. This inspired us to launch a Gigantic Q&A blog series, highlighting local citizens making a difference.
Recycled Glass Artist
KN: What inspires you as an artist?
FS: I enjoy the problem solving that comes from being a reuse artist. Sometimes I have an idea of something I want to make and go and look for materials. Other times, I will find an interesting object and think, “What can I make out of that?”
KN: How do you incorporate sustainability and green practices into your art pieces?
FS: Most importantly I try to have as much as possible—if not all—of my material be recycled. I try to stay away from toxic and harmful chemicals. I use a sandblaster instead of etching my glass with chemicals.
KN: What is your favorite material for making new artwork and why?
FS: Glass! Most of my professional work has been in glass and that is where I have the most experience. Each bottle factory has its own formula for glass, and the ratios by which the glass expands and contracts are different. In short, you can’t melt different colored bottles together because they may crack. This challenges me to make the glass interesting in other ways. I can add texture by twisting, adding wire, sand blasting and tumbling. I use combinations of glass techniques—from flameworking with a torch to fusing, slumping and coldworking. Glass can be both a liquid and a solid.
KN: What kind of reactions do your art pieces get?
FS: Mostly positive. Quite often people cannot tell at first that the pieces are made from recycled materials. Recycled does not have to look rough or “trashy.” I hope I can inspire others to take a second look at their own trash and find creative uses for it. Some people turn away from my bullet casing jewelry because of the association with violence, which is understandable. I like to think of it as transforming an object symbolic of destruction into a thing of beauty.
KN: What would be your dream art project?
FS: I enjoy sharing ideas and collaborating with other artists. My dream project would be working with other reuse artists on bigger, public works projects.
Our April Fool’s quiz asked readers to say which of four possible waste reduction innovations was true:
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.)
Every so often we run into people doing important environmental work who deserve some recognition. This inspired us to launch a new Gigantic Q&A blog series, highlighting local citizens making a difference.
Master Gardener and Composter
Walnut Creek, CA
Billi Haug knocks you over with her enthusiasm and love for her job. I originally interviewed and photographed her for a quote for the Spring 2014 Diversions newsletter, a publication of the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority (CCCSWA). I was immediately charmed by her high energy and impressive knowledge of gardening and composting. I ended up joining the composting class that I was sent to photograph, and then implementing what she taught at my own community garden plot in Oakland.
KN: What drew you to the master gardener program?
BH: It took two years before I could fit it into my schedule, but it was definitely worth the wait! I was interested in the Master Gardening Program because it delivered an intensive learning experience full of research-based horticultural information.
KN: What’s your approach to promoting composting?
BH: I give talks and present workshops in the community to show how easy and beneficial composting is for the soil and plants. My own experience has convinced me of the benefits for the garden.
KN: Do you have any tricks or tips for engaging groups?
BH: I utilize three keys: know your subject, show enthusiasm and keep it simple. “Show and tell” props can be fun too.
KN: How do you know when you are having a positive effect on your students?
BH: When workshop participants approach me after class to say they can’t wait to get started. I’ve also encountered former students who catch me in line at the market and launch into their composting success stories!
KN: If you could have a superpower for one day, what would it be and how would you use it?
BH: I would love to be a rain fairy. I would swing my wand for a gentle, steady rain to fall all over California for a week.
KN: Who are your heroes?
BH: My uncle was my hero. He taught me about the beauty of nature and the power of being a good steward so that future generations may continue to draw strength and beauty from nature.
Billi Haug received her Master Gardener certification in 1997, and in 1998 she received her certification to be a public speaker for the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, sponsored by the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District. In May 2006 she completed her advanced composting certification. She presents on Healthy Gardening and Integrated Pest Management and gives Home Composting workshops throughout the Bay Area.
Click here for CCCSWA’s 2014 Workshop schedule.
Earth Day is now in its 44th year. This is surely something to be celebrated, but it also presents a challenge when it comes to making it feel fresh. I suspect this very minute government agencies and environmental nonprofits all over the U.S. and beyond are intensely brainstorming how to make this year’s Earth Day special. Maybe these 10 suggestions will help.
- Spotlight local issues. — Instead of tackling global climate change or pollution of the oceans, how about making your Earth Day event about something a little closer to home (not to mention more upbeat)? Some ideas: community gardens, food forests, repair cafes, clothing swaps, and bike share programs. There is so much going on at the local level related to sustainability. Use the energy surrounding these activities to inject some life into your own efforts.
- Make it about people, not trees.—I had a friend in college who, when I told her my major (Social Sciences with a concentration in Environmental Issues and Conservation), observed “I guess some people are people people, and some people are tree people” (relegating me to the latter group,). Make sure a visitor to your booth or event leaves understanding that Earth Day is about people, as are sustainable practices the rest of the year.
- Avoid visual clichés.—Use graphics other than the “whole Earth” or globe-type image. Your best bet? People – specifically, close-ups on faces and preferably faces that reflect your local demographics. Images of people performing the behaviors you want to encourage — whether it be recycling an unusual item, riding a bike or installing drought-tolerant landscaping — will make those issues come alive.
- Pick a theme.— Choose a topic to highlight this year and this year only. As with your graphic, select something more focused than the whole Earth. Making your event about a particular thing instead of Everything will go a long way toward making Earth Day relatable to your audience. Earth Day Network [http://www.earthday.org/greencities/earth-day-2014/] has declared this year’s theme Green Cities. Any organization, but especially a city, could build on this concept or come up with something else.
- Actively involve visitors.— Why not invite people in advance to bring clothing down to your booth and hold a swap meet right then and there? This will make a great photo opp for your Facebook page — and maybe the local paper — and it will engage your audience before, during and after the event. If a swap doesn’t quite fit in your case, brainstorm other ideas that will better support your message and still be fun and memorable.
- Swear off brochures.— Going paperless this year will force your team to come up with more creative ideas and will allow you to model very tangibly a low-waste behavior you’d like to see adopted throughout your community. After all, as interesting as we think our brochures and flyers are, they’re not likely to last more than a few days or hours before being put into the recycling bin (if we’re lucky). A less appealing scenario: Earth Day flyers littering the town square. It doesn’t take a PR expert to know that a spectacle like that would not be good for your agency’s image.
- Give the gift of experience. — Scrambling for giveaways again? How about giving visitors memories instead of tchotchkes? An experience of playing a game, sharing a story, having a picture taken with a silly mascot, … (insert your great idea here!) will be remembered far longer than a pencil or a keychain. The bonus? These photo-worthy moments will provide you with endless fodder for your social media.
- Remember the Next Day. — Earth Day can be a launch as well as a celebration. How can you reuse and recycle elements of Earth Day to extend the fervor and intention into year –round action?
- Listen up. — Use your presence at the event to gain insights into what matters to the citizens of your city. These learnings will pay big dividends in the months to come by saving you the time it would otherwise have taken to guess and by helping your outreach to be more on-target.
- Have fun.— This is perhaps the most important tip of all. We all work so hard to advance the cause of sustainability in our communities and the world. We owe it to ourselves and the planet to take at least one day a year to celebrate the progress we’ve made.
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:
Our 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!
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The Behavior, Energy & Climate Change (BECC) conference is a favorite of the Gigantic team — one we look forward to every year. I attended this year’s event just two weeks ago and found it energizing and informative, as always. Following are ten of my favorite quotes and related inferences based on what I heard.
1. Debbie Slobe, Senior Program Director, Resource Media
Slobe presented on the Science of Successful Visual Communications. She cited research that tells us what works best, including close-ups on faces — and preferably not stock photos. She argued that “real people experiencing real emotion” are more likely to prompt action. “Make people feel, not think,” she declared.
2. Dr. Nicole Woolsey Biggart, Professor, UC Davis Efficiency Center
Dr. Woolsey Biggart noted that faith communities are the largest organizers of people in the U.S. Perhaps those of us doing environmental outreach would benefit from making better use of these extensive and long-standing networks.
3. Brian Orland, Professor of Landscape Architecture Penn State, Institutes of Energy & the Environment
One of the most refreshing aspects of BECC is the fact that human beings are put at the center of the energy efficiency discussion. Now it seems obvious that this is critically important, but it took years before anything but technology and infrastructure was taken into account. As Brian Orland observed, however: “Buildings don’t care if they save energy; people do.” The same goes for waste reduction, pollution prevention, … and the list goes on.
4. Melinda Briana Epler, Chief Experience Officer, Mazzetti Consulting
Epler offered advice about how to understand and influence your target audience. “It’s not about you; it’s about them,” she asserted. “Meet them where they are, and [include them in] the solution-making.” Who better to design an outreach campaign than actual members of the target group?
LeBlanc gave a fascinating presentation on a relatively new field of study: behavioral economics. The bottom line? Decisions are made by different parts of the brain at different times. Unfortunately, it’s usually the limbic or “reptile” portion of the brain that dominates when a decision impacts us, in the present moment. Example? Do you want an orange or a candy bar right now? The candy, right? But how about tomorrow? You’re likely to make the healthier choice for your future self. So how do you get people to turn down their thermostat or recycle their food scraps now? Activate the frontal region of the brain before making your request.
6. Mithra Moezzi, Research Faculty, Portland State University
Dr. Moezzi uses the framework of storytelling to learn from building operators* what their barriers and benefits are when it comes to promoting energy efficiency in their buildings. She found out that the most important thing for them is limiting complaints from tenants. My inference? Helping them reduce the amount of grumbling they have to listen to about offices being too hot, too cold and so on, will go a lot farther than appeals to their environmental values. Another tip: “Help the building operators look like heroes to their bosses.”
*(For those of us working in waste more often than energy, the equivalent role would be a property or facility manager.)
7. Kathryn Janda, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University
Janda argued that we, as marketers promoting conservation, need to “tell a new story.” For her, it’s all about relevance. “What do people care about, and how can we activate that?” A few suggestions: responsibility, family, and caring over time.
8. Karen McCord, Marketing Specialist, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD)
Ms. McCord told the audience that SMUD did “tons of research” before developing any of their campaign collateral and continue to do so on an ongoing basis. We know what a difference research makes as far as using the right tactics and messages, and we applaud SMUD for making it part of their outreach best practices.
9. Eric Olsen, Customer Energy Solutions, PG&E
Olsen was involved in a multi-year campaign targeting small businesses, one of the aims of which was to get them to switch from flat to time-of-use pricing. PG&E was hoping business owners would make other changes at the same time and thought this would be a convenience to their customers. However, the response to this was negative for the most part. The lesson for PG&E? “Make one significant change at a time.” Olsen noted they ended up allowing “a couple of years” to pass between the adjustments they asked their customers to make.
10. George Lakoff, PhD, Professor of Linguistics, UC Berkeley
Lakoff reminded us during his keynote speech: “People reason metaphorically.” And flowing from that fact, a piece of advice: “Think very carefully about the metaphors you use.” You may not think you use metaphors in your outreach campaigns, but you do. We all do — whether we’re aware of it or not. They can be verbal or visual, but they’re there. As Lakoff put it, “Marketing is metaphor,” and the same could be said of outreach. An example? The question of whether to “kick off” or “launch” a new program might make all the difference, depending on whether you’re addressing football fans or space buffs.
Many of the conference presentations are available for download here.
The next BECC conference is December 7-10, 2014 in Washington DC. See you there?