Which Message is Best? Results from a Pilot Cart Tagging Project in Sunnyvale, California

Gigantic Idea Studio teamed up with Sunnyvale, California with the challenge to refresh their “FoodCycle” food scrap collection program outreach and improve participation rates. The question was, how?

social norming message tag
One tag version had messages of social norming and the benefits of foodcycling.

After surveying residents, we found that self-reported participation was actually fairly high at 63%, but cart audits showed a lower citywide participation rate of 57% and weekly participation of 45%.

The City wanted more program collateral, how-to videos and a presentation to help them communicate about the program, but also wanted to explore behavior-change tactics in a pilot program. Our team proposed a communications campaign as a baseline strategy, that would be supplemented with cart tagging in two pilot areas. The pilot would determine whether or not cart tagging improved participation more than advertisements, articles and videos. Together, we set a goal to raise weekly participation by 5%.

The two pilot areas were given two different messaging strategies: Social Norming and Benefit messaging vs. Addressing Barriers messaging. The social norming tag showed residents and their quotes about why they FoodCycled—and then listed the benefits of participation, such as reducing waste and fighting climate change. It also clearly stated that 63% of residents participate, a clear majority of support and enthusiasm. The second group received messaging related to overcoming barriers to participation, such as tips to avoid mess, smells and pests, and alternative collection containers for smaller kitchens or those concerned with aesthetics.

The more effective tag addressed barriers to food scrap recycling.

Although both strategies are part of the popular “Community-Based Social Marketing” practices, the cart audits showed that the “Barriers” messaging worked better in Sunnyvale. The households that received a cart tag with tips saw an increase of 9% (from 44% to 53%) in weekly participation and 7% in overall participation, when compared to the baseline.

Both types of messages were included in the communications campaign, but the pilot project shows that cart tagging adds effectiveness that can be measured. This is likely related to the personal and contextual message delivery method—the cart—which is related to the behavior change we are asking for.

Many cities will be conducting cart audits as part of SB 1383’s statewide requirements. Adding friendly, yet effective messaging designed to increase participation in organics programs is a good way to maximize the investment of labor required to do these audits. This messaging can be combined with contamination feedback and included on the back side of any cart tag.

We have experience designing these tags and providing guidance on how to determine messaging that resonates in your community. We’d love to hear from you!

Hard Numbers, Hard Truths: How Data from Spot Checks, Surveys and More Guide Outreach

We know it’s best to base outreach on data that we get from research. Formal research can be costly, but actionable data is all around us – and it can help make public outreach more effective.

For the 2022 California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) Conference, Gigantic participated in a session about the use of surveys and spot checks to guide outreach. Our presentation gave examples from two of Gigantic’s clients: Cities of Milpitas and Livermore.

Among the suggestions:

  • Integrating some research into your outreach plan is better than none. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good: include lid flips and surveys into your budgets as feasible. There’s also data that does not need a specific budget because:
  • Outreach data is all around us. Your agency may not be able to afford a statistically rigorous survey, but quantitative data from hauler reports or lid flipping can be useful guides to what is working and what challenges arise. Qualitative data (individual questions or reactions that represent the concerns of a larger audience) can be gathered from phone help lines, comments at public meetings or from social media posts. Website statistics show us which content is or is not being accessed, what users are searching for and how/when they accessed the site; this is all guiding data for outreach.
  • Use data to react in real time. Are you getting a lot of questions on your social channel about plastic bags? Are lid flips showing an increase in a particular item of contamination? Respond to these questions with blog or social posts, or additional newsletter content, as promptly as possible.

See the full presentation here:

Learn more about CRRA here.

HHWhat? Outreach Challenges of Household Hazardous Waste

Household Hazardous Waste: what a term! It’s a mouthful: three words that don’t really clarify what it encompasses. Add to that, city, hauler and marketing professionals like to shorten the term to HHW – which sounds even more mysterious. The EPA defines Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) as “leftover household products that can catch fire, react, or explode under certain circumstances, or that are corrosive or toxic.” Common HHW items include fluorescent bulbs, batteries, gasoline, household chemicals, pesticides, paints, antifreeze and asbestos…a real hodgpodge of toxic stuff.

At Gigantic, when tackling an HHW project, we start out thinking about our audience’s awareness of the problem. The problem with HHW is that it encompasses things as seemingly harmless as half-empty hair spray to those more easily perceived as dangerous, such as pesticides. When describing the hazards, we like the wording “toxic to you and/or the environment” to encompass all the potential negative outcomes.

Understanding HHW: Does It Matter?

When doing outreach, it’s important to describe the issue or item in question before you tell people what to do about it and give them a reason to dispose carefully. However, when considering HHW, we wonder, “do people really need to know the term?” Not necessarily. Communicating how HHW items should be handled can work either way:

  1. Explain the term and help people understand which items are considered HHW, then let them know how to safely dispose of it.
  2. Encourage use of a general “what goes where” app like StopWaste’s re:source tool that includes HHW items, without requiring the user to identify them as such. (IMAGE w link https://resource.stopwaste.org

image of search in re:source

Connect HHW Items with Real World Examples

It can also be helpful to put HHW disposal in context. When might residents be most likely to think about getting rid of HHW? Maybe before putting their house up for sale, when contemplating a spring cleaning or when tackling DIY house projects? Messaging that connects an activity with HHW items is more likely to be memorable.

Go Beyond the Carts

It could help if HHW items were called out more prominently in recycling guides as a category that needs different treatment, such as a “Not Accepted Curbside” or “Special Items”  category.

Go for Impact

It also makes sense to focus on the HHW items that are most problematic in your area. Rather than implying the need to grasp a long list of items, focus on raising awareness about one item at a time, choosing those that would be most impactful if they were disposed of properly.

Thinking through the challenges and solutions of communicating about HHW before starting campaign design will save time and effort, while keeping people and nature safer.

SB 1383: Composting Outreach to Multi-Family Residents

Man emptying compost pail into correct cart
A new campaign encourages organic material composting for multi-family residents.

SB 1383 requires everyone in California — residents and businesses — to separate and compost organic materials, such as plant trimmings, leaves, grass and food scraps. In much of the Bay Area, yard trimmings and food scrap collection has been offered to single-family households for years. But the new law is providing a much-needed push to roll out food scrap collection service to multi-unit buildings. These buildings, which can have a few as four and up to hundreds of individual units, provide challenges, but also opportunities to keep more organic material out of the landfill.

Food scrap collection is an entirely new concept to the vast majority of apartment, condo and and townhome residents, and a clear and effective outreach program is a must-have. Outreach is ideally implemented at each building site. A successful program requires a good partnership between the service provider, the city or waste agency, and the property manager.

Gigantic is proud to have been part of a great collaboration with the South Bayside Waste Management Authority and their service provider, Recology, to create a composting campaign for apartment and condo residents.

Our team helped focus the campaign for the end-user of the program: the resident. The campaign will support the work of Recology’s implementation team and include a doorhanger for individual units and a poster for lobbies, trash areas and mail rooms. Both highlight the new food scrap composting requirement and link via QR code to a step-by-step instructional video. To support this site-specific outreach, we’ll be promoting the video on social media via paid promotion.

The video works to show, not tell, and visually communicates the food scrap recycling process. The addition of select graphic captions help identify key steps in the process. Voice-over in three languages (English, Spanish and Cantonese) help reach residents who may otherwise miss the message, while providing more detailed information.

Our video also includes 1383-required messaging about the law and its goal to reduce greenhouse gases.

We enjoyed working with this highly motivated client team. The program rolled out in June and we look forward to seeing the results!

Garden Pots and Mulch Bags, OH MY!

On a recent chilly early Monday morning in March, Stef and I were conducting spot checks* for our client, Livermore Recycles. In a single lid-flipping morning, we walk several miles and record data on approximately 200 residential trash/recycling/composting set-outs. I flip the lid on each cart and call out what I see while Stef records the data on her clipboard.

On this morning, a pattern was beginning to emerge. From the compost cart we could tell folks were definitely working on their gardens and yards this time of year AND some of them were confused about where their nursery pots and mulch bags should end up. Unfortunately, film plastics such as mulch bags and those black flimsy pots belong in the trash – we found several set-outs where these items were contaminating the organics cart and the recycling cart.

flower pots wrongly placed in recycling and organics carts

As a result of seeing this in the field on Monday, and verifying with the team that this continued throughout the week, we were able to create a social media post prior to the next weekend to let Livermore residents know:

FB post about trashing mulch bags and pots

We were quite pleased when we saw the comments and likes come in:

positive comments on the post

I’d call that a Gigantic success and a good example of how we can act upon what we see is needed in a short amount of time.

*Gigantic Idea Studio, has been flipping lids in Livermore twice a year (Spring and Fall since 2017. This involves early morning starts to stay ahead of the Livermore Sanitation trucks as we flip lids on approximately 1,000 setouts during a single week. The data is collected, reviewed and reported back to the client, along with recommendations for messaging specific to Livermore residents’ needs.

The Social Media Swamp: How to Deal with Anti-Environmental Comments

meme - what the otter sees
Dealing with the social swamp isn’t easy

As many of us know from running environmental campaigns on social media: online platforms bring out the best in some and the worst in others. It can be disheartening to learn that not everyone is as supportive of clean water, wildlife, or air quality as we are. What seems a no-brainer to us, (do you actually WANT pollution in your water?), is anathema to others.

For some of us who monitor these online conversations, (and I include myself here) it may be hard to read and manage negative comments that target our work or the things we are trying to protect. Fortunately, my unflappable colleague at Gigantic, Nancy Roberts, coached me through this aspect of our work in our recent campaign for Respect Wildlife. In this blog, I’ll share what I learned from her “Keep Calm and Carry On” approach to social media management. You can view the campaign here.

Nancy’s Top 3 Social Media Comment Tips

1. Don’t take comments personally. If monitoring comments becomes mentally taxing, take breaks or assign the task to someone else.

2. Understand that comments are data points.

3. Establish a comment policy: Include how you will deal with profanity, bullying, slurs, violent language, or other troublesome content, and create a threshold for when you will hide or delete a comment. If you are a government agency, you may need to adhere to free speech regulations and let comments stand, more so than nonprofits or private businesses, which can set their own policies.

For Facebook: Hide rather than delete comments. This will prevent conflict.
For Instagram: You can’t hide comments; delete only if absolutely necessary.
For Twitter: You cannot hide replies; if they are truly egregious you can report to Twitter.

Decide how/if you want to respond to comments. In most cases we recommend no response unless there is significant misinformation. Let other commenters step in to present an alternative viewpoint or challenge the naysayers. This is more authentic.

Lessons Learned from Our Recent Respect Wildlife Campaign:

As mentioned above, comments are rich sources of feedback, even the negative ones. Here are some takeaways on the campaign that we and the client gained through comment feedback:

  • Not everyone loves animals or cares if animals are hurt. (Especially seagulls!) Some people view humans at the top of food chain, and therefore it’s ok show dominance. While not the majority, this view is especially hard to deal with, but an important thing to remember. Appeals to protection, being a good person, etc. will not work for this type of individual.
  • Regulations, even those meant to protect vulnerable species, are viewed by a vocal minority as government control and overreach, and inspire especially negative comments.
  • Not everyone understands or supports a humorous approach. Many expressed enjoyment of the campaign’s exaggerated artwork style, but it inspired some very literal thinkers to call out the “falsehoods” shown in the memes. (We actually did know that otters don’t really see humans as swamp creatures!)
  • If feeding or approaching wildlife is “fun” for humans and pets, it’s considered harmless.

Good luck on your next social media campaign! I hope you connect with supporters and learn from the detractors.

Rainwater: Collecting Our Most Precious Resource

water scene at Magic Johnson Park
Magic Johnson Recreation Area, Los Angeles, CA

It’s mid-December, and we’re on our second “big rain event” of 2021-22 rainy season in the Bay Area. It’s been four weeks since the last storm, and for the past three years, total rainfall is way below average. This is a predicted new pattern: less frequent rain, bigger storms, persistent drought cycles. And, as the storms get bigger and rain falls in a shorter period of time, our storm drain systems can get overwhelmed and much of the precious water can wash away into the bay and ocean.

This past year, our team has worked with stormwater professionals in California to research the best ways to promote stormwater management techniques—that already exist—to capture and use rain water from these storms. A great example of what’s possible is Magic Johnson Recreation Area in Los Angeles.

This beautiful park uses built-in systems that mimic nature, and sustain the park while preventing pollution, capturing water, and providing residents with a beautiful open space.

Stormwater education has been almost exclusively focused on the pollution that stormwater carries to our waterways. The good news is that “capture and use” projects also clean the water, so it can be used on site for irrigation. This leaves more of our water supply for humans and wildlife.

Green stormwater infrastructure is an elegant solution that results in many benefits to communities: green space, more water supply, less dependance on importing water. It seems like a win-win, but is lacking in public awareness, funding, and integration with statewide water supply planning.

It will take ongoing effort to rebrand stormwater as a resource, and not as a source of pollution. Our team will do our best to help the industry simplify technical terms and jargon to resonate with voters and elected officials who need to support projects in their communities, and to state officials who must fund them.

Gigantic Growth! Welcome to our new Associates!

Our team has gotten even more Gigantic! We are pleased to announce the addition of Myer Venzon and Dennis Uyat to our team of Associates.

Myer is a marketing professional with skills and experience in strategy, digital and social media, communications, branding and creative. At Gigantic, Myer contributes to a variety of aspects of our campaigns, with a particular focus on digital strategy. Previously, Myer worked in the green beauty industry, where he was able to grow his passion for marketing with ethical and sustainable products. He is environmentally conscious and does his part by recycling old jokes passed down from his dad.

Myer holds a B.S. in Marketing Management and an M.B.A. in Global Innovation from California State University, East Bay. 

 

Dennis has worked with us on a per project basis since 2019. Dennis is a passionate environmental communicator with a lot of hands-on experience in engaging community members in sustainable behaviors with a focus on zero waste. As a field rep, Dennis has helped set up recycling and composting systems, working with residents and businesses throughout the Bay Area. They have led multilingual recycling facility tours to international delegations, elementary school students and community groups. Dennis has also been a leader with Zero Waste Youth.

dennis head shotDennis holds a B.A. in Geography with a minor in Geospatial Information Science Technology from UC Berkeley and an A.A. in Recycling and Resource Management from Golden West College in Huntington Beach. They hold a certificates in Master Resource & Conservation and Master Compost & Solid Waste from the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability, and Zero Waste Community Associate by Zero Waste USA.

We are excited for our clients to work with both Myer and Dennis in the near future!

 

Selling Nothing: Outreach to Reduce Consumption

Survey questions asked about current consumption attitudes and habits.

We love working on all kinds of waste and sustainability issues with our clients, and we especially enjoy the challenge of moving people toward a more zero waste lifestyle. Our most recent presentation for the CRRA Conference (see slideshow below) looked at the challenge of “selling folks” on the behavior of buying less stuff. “Selling Nothing” introduced some ways of encouraging less consumption, such as by focusing on specific items, or reminding people of the positive feeling that comes from sharing or helping others, or by focusing on specific behaviors, for instance holiday gift-giving, to encourage buying less stuff.

We then presented results of a brief survey of Californians about their feelings around any recent changes in their consumption habits. Many of the questions were borrowed – well, reused — from a 2015 survey done in New Zealand about the connection between buying and people’s feeling of well-being.

A few findings from our July 2021 survey, which gathered 350 responses from Californians:

  • A majority of respondents (53%) confirm they are consciously reducing the amount of stuff they have bought in the last 3 months.
  • Unsurprisingly in this time of economic uncertainty and pandemic effects, over half of those who bought less did so because they had less money to spend or wanted to save more. These answers could give us some ideas about how to position non-consumption.
  • More than two-thirds of respondents agreed with statements about over-consumption’s negative impact on “future generations” and “the planet.” So seemingly awareness is not the issue in cutting consumption, it’s more a question of persuasion.
  • The final question of the survey was “Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?” — asked at the end so as not to prejudice responses to the other questions. 43% said yes, 34% said no, and 18% weren’t sure if they considered themselves environmentalists. The comments revealed some tensions: some considered being “green” too hard or that environmentalists are too radical, while a few were outright hostile to the label.

Key takeaways include:

  • “Selling” not buying in general is a tough challenge; try focusing on specific actions, items or situations in order to chip away at the social pressure to consume.
  • While we encourage source reduction to tackle the issues of waste and climate change, there are many reasons people may reduce consumption that could be included in a source reduction campaign. A primary driver is saving money.
  • A majority of respondents understand that rampant consumption is harmful to people and planet in the long run. BUT…
  • A majority also acknowledge that buying stuff makes them happy. So that clarifies the challenge for outreach campaigns that aim to reduce consumption – how can we offer a form of happiness to replace the happiness of buying?

Our research and efforts continue!

See the presentation:

 

When in Doubt: The Power of Subtraction

“When in doubt, take it out” is a rule I apply as often as possible when editing my own writing and that of others. By removing words or seeking simpler vocabulary or constructions, writing often becomes more clear, comprehensible and even beautiful.

Subtract book cover
The suitably simple cover design for Klotz’s Subtract.

A new book by Leidy Klotz, professor at the University of Virginia, takes the idea of ‘taking away’ to a whole new level.  Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less posits that humans are programmed to solve problems by adding stuff – elements, ideas or things – whereas subtracting them often clarifies and eases a problem. One of the book’s first examples is the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco. The project was opposed by a majority of citizens and politicians on a number of operational and economic grounds. Yet once the freeway, damaged in the Loma Prieta quake, was removed, the benefits became obvious – and huge. Klotz notes “The decade after removal saw a 50 percent increase in housing and a 15 percent increase in jobs around the waterfront. (p. 3)  A beautiful space was created, businesses thrived, people flocked and … traffic became less snarled.

Are there environmental problems that can be addressed by removing rather than adding? Klotz addresses this possibility and gives some examples. He suggests applying subtraction to the 3Rs: “When the current situation exceeds planetary boundaries, we need to subtract first. Remove must become the first R.” (p.210)

Klotz’s research is introduced in the video below. While subtraction is not the answer to every problem, it’s another tool we can use when approaching environmental outreach…and everyday life.