Observations from a Plastic-Free July

Expressing gratitude for change is important.

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.

Gigantic Welcomes Nicole Greenspan to the Team

Nicole GreenspanWe’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 wiNicole Greenspan new Associate at Giganticth 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.

5 Tips to Turn Your Environmental Outreach from “Meh” to “Magnificent”

The (bruised) bananaphone connects the Gigantic staff at CRRA
The (bruised) bananaphone connects the Gigantic staff at CRRA

It’s easy to fall into a rut with environmental outreach tools (websites, brochures, bill inserts, how-to-recycle guides, etc.) But even the smallest touch-up can really help make a piece become more effective. In preparation for the recent California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) annual conference, the Gigantic team put out a call to our email list, asking for samples of outreach materials that were ready for a makeover. We selected two submissions – the City of Fremont’s multi-family recycling guide and the Conservation Corps North Bay’s services flyer, and got to work.

See the results in the presentation below. In doing these makeovers, a few key takeaways emerged that we’d like to share:

1) Tailor by Audience – Often agencies and organizations don’t have the resources to make separate pieces for each audience (for example, multi-family building residents and property managers), but you can use visual cues and wording to clarify to whom you are speaking within a piece.

2) Give a Clear Call to Action – Laundry lists of do’s and don’t’s can make people’s eyes glaze over. Single, clear action steps are more likely to get results.

3) Use Clear Instructions – There are some best practices for information such as waste sorting guides: use color coding, group images by type, and don’t overlap images – the brain takes in the shape of an uncluttered image and retains it better.

4) Tell Your Story – Stories stick. Make your messages come alive with vivid words and images, and beware of jargon and “internal speak.” Investing in custom photography with “real” community members pays off, as people see themselves in your outreach and are more likely to respond.

5) Be Consistent and Multi-Touch – No single brochure, no matter how well designed, can do all the work. Your message will go farther when all communication pieces work together visually and verbally, reinforcing your message across channels.

If your organization needs an outreach makeover, feel free to contact us and let’s see what we can do together!

Gigantic Idea Studio Hosts NewCo Oakland Session

Last Thursday, October 8, we opened our Gigantic doors to host a diverse group of visitors interested in learning more about us and our work as part of the NewCo Festival. NewCo engages companies with an innovative mission to share their vision and ideas with festival attendees. This year, the event expanded from San Francisco to include Oakland for the first time, and we are so proud to have been selected to participate as a host company. Host businesses include small, specialized groups like us, along with big players like Twitter, Pandora, Uber, and everything in between. NewCo is an inspiring event, and a great way to share ideas across business disciplines, as our attendees were from well-known tech companies, a university, an online retailer and more.

Surprisingly, preparing this presentation became a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. I realized the history of Gigantic’s founding and early development is intertwined with the advent of recycling, the tipping  point of green as mainstream, and the rise of social science research on how to change behaviors related to environment and sustainability—and this made a cool story. It was great to meet people interested in taking the latest ideas and techniques back to their workplaces to inspire change. Here is the presentation:

Enlivening Outreach: 5 Techniques for Creating Vivid Communication

This post is the third in a three-part series summarizing our presentation on messaging at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) conference: “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting Your Message to Matter.” 


At this point in the story you now know the power of emotional appeal and storytelling. Now it’s time to add another element to the mix: vivid communication.

By vivid communication, we mean communication that forms distinct and striking mental images.  Vivid communication works because it gets attention and aids recall. Without attention, there is no recall. Without recall, there is no action.

Consider these five techniques to incorporate vivid communication to your projects.

1) Make the Invisible, Visible.
Vivid1

Take a look at this ad campaign from Georgia’s Clean Air Program. This is a clever way to depict the positive impact of public transit and carpool options on Atlanta’s freeways.

 2) Relate to what people know.

Vivid3

PG&E learned how to weave vivid communications into scripts. PG&E noticed when they sent auditors to visit homeowners to talk about weather stripping, caulking and attic insulation alone – they did not see homeowners take action to correct issues.

However, once auditors were trained to incorporate vivid communication into their discussions with homeowners, they noticed a significant increase in repairs being made. For example, if an auditor found a lack of insulation in the attic they would say “We call that a ‘naked attic’ – it’s as if your home is facing winter not just without a coat, but without any clothing at all.

3) Illustrate your data.

Vivid2

Yes, facts are important! However, facts with visuals can really get your point across. It’s one thing to say a glacier receded eight miles in 100 years and another eight miles in the last 10 years; we hit another level of comprehension when those facts are illustrated visually.

4) Create an infographic.

Vivid4

This technique is perfect for grabbing someone’s attention and keeping it.

5) Engage the senses.

Vivid5

We created a three-cart game for Oakland Recycles to promote composting and recycling behaviors. The game begins with a noisy and attention-getting prize wheel. The prize wheel lands on a photo of a common discard and the player must find the game piece and walk over and determine which is the proper cart to use. The booth team coaches players as needed and we encourage them to look for clues under the lids. The player is engaged kinetically by taking the item, recognizing what it is and physically placing it in the right cart. This aids recall when they are back home and encountering the same item.

Remember…

No matter the budget dollars behind your campaign, you can weave vivid communications into all your existing outreach efforts including newsletters, bill inserts, presentations, social media posts, event tabling and more! You can change the script, add imagery feature community members, even add a game or activity.

The complete CRRA presentation can be viewed here.

Let Me Tell You a Story: Increasing Recall of Environmental Outreach

This post is the second in a three-part series summarizing our presentation on messaging at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) conference: “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting Your Message to Matter.” 


 

Story_ppt_ssWhich is more powerful: presenting environmental facts and a call to action in a bullet-point list, or embedding them in a narrative? As you may have guessed, the latter! Stories help us understand cause and effect and how things fit together. They also let us access emotions, making the message more memorable.

Storytelling has been part of the human experience for a very long time—just think of the narratives depicted in prehistoric cave paintings. The human brain has evolved to work in narrative structures; it’s how we make sense of the world.

To understand what makes storytelling so effective, let’s look at what happens in the brain. When we absorb facts, the brain gets activated in the areas responsible for language recognition and decoding words into meaning. However, when we listen to a narrative, additional areas in the brain show activity: those responsible for directing physical motion and tracking sensations. For example, when we hear metaphors like “he had leathery hands,” the brain’s sensory cortex — which perceives texture through touch — is stimulated. And the more parts of our brains are engaged, the better our attention and recall.

How can we use these insights in environmental outreach work? There are many ways to weave in narratives. For example, use positive stories about real people to promote a behavior. It may take a bit of research to find the right “hero” for your story, but you can’t beat the persuasive value (and norming effect!) of a local couple sharing their enthusiasm about, say, cooking with leftovers, along with tips in their own words and a photo showing them having fun in the kitchen while reducing waste.

If you’re dealing with frequent barriers to practices you’re trying to promote, try a “success story” of somebody who has overcome these challenges. Their authentic voice and the emotional connection their story can make with your audience will be more effective than any list of facts.

The complete CRRA presentation can be viewed here.

Once More, with Feeling: Incorporating Emotion in Environmental Outreach

This post is the first in a three-part series summarizing our presentation on messaging at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) conference: “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting Your Message to Matter.” 

sitting brain
People are not just brains on a chair – they respond to emotional appeal
Environmental outreach depends on getting the facts about pollution, recycling, and other eco-challenges to the public in order to encourage more sustainable behaviors. But over and over, we see that facts alone don’t change public behavior. We have to make our messages matter and be memorable. To do this, we recommend three key strategies.
Our first strategy: appeal to the whole person by using emotion. People are not just brains sitting on a chair, motivated by facts and data. Getting people to laugh, cry, sigh or shake their heads in wonder or disgust is what makes a message stick. Businesses have known this for ages. Think about it: Coca-Cola doesn’t focus on telling you exactly what’s in their bottles of acidic sugar water. No! They work to associate their product with emotions of joy, happiness, or belonging, with slogans like “Share a Coke and a Smile” or “Coke Adds Life” or…well, you get the picture.
Emotional appeals do not have to be shocking to work. When we need to convince others to act, it is an invitation to display passion, instill a sense of immediacy or threat, or to invite people to be part of something…there are many emotional appeals to choose from.  See examples of emotional appeals in videos, display ads, and more, in the complete presentation, below.
So the next time you are planning an outreach campaign, consider how to include an emotional appeal. Far from being fluffy or silly, that emotional appeal will make your message more likely to stick.
The complete CRRA presentation can be viewed here.

Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) – Takeaways from Doug McKenzie-Mohr’s Training

word cloud from blogThe Gigantic Idea Studio team attended the San Francisco Community-Based Social Marketing training in February. No, not THAT social marketing – there was no Facebook fanning or Twitter theory involved. Social marketing in this case is the process of encouraging behavior change for social good. In our case, that means fostering eco-friendly behavior such as recycling, waste reduction, preserving water quality, and so on. While our firm also employs other methods of promoting environmental programs and behaviors, CBSM remains the most studied and proven process for facilitating behavior change. While our team members have previously studied and practiced CBSM for years, we know it never hurts to take time for a refresher course in order to deepen our understanding.

Perhaps the biggest point McKenzie-Mohr made during the training was that CBSM is a process, a full set of steps to follow to ensure you have the best chance at success. He was quick to point out that using one tactic on its own—doing a pledge or a prompt for instance—was not truly CBSM, if it wasn’t selected based on completing the steps of behavior identification, researching barriers and benefits, developing strategies and piloting.

It was an informative four days for our team at the trainings, where we worked closely in groups to practice CBSM techniques. We have always encouraged our clients to use the full CBSM process, but understand that sometimes budget and timing gets in the way. Fortunately, the training offered various options for completing the research and evaluation steps that make the CBSM process work, in ways that save money, but still allow for your strategies to be chosen based on actual information from your community.

Having completed the advanced training allows us access to McKenzie-Mohr’s CBSM presentation, and he encouraged attendees to deliver the presentation to key decision makers. Armed with the background on CBSM’s effectiveness, it is easier to convince funders, boards, managers and directors to approve outreach projects that use the full CBSM process. We would be happy to deliver this presentation to any of our clients!

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!

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