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?
During the last week of September, my colleague Stefanie Pruegel (pictured left) and I (pictured right) donned orange safety vests and set out before sunrise to study recycling program participation in various neighborhoods in Livermore, California. Armed with headlamps, clipboards and maps, we walked some 20 miles over five days and flipped about 2,000 recycling and organics cart lids.
This walkabout was part of our observational research to gain insights into residents’ recycling and composting habits, including contamination patterns (i.e., putting things in the wrong carts). The data we gathered will also measure the baseline participation rate. Repeating this measurement after an outreach campaign will allow us to compare the results and determine how successful we were as well as guide the next phase of outreach. This particular kind of measurement can be a messy job, but someone’s gotta do it.
During our lid-flipping adventures, several patterns emerged:
• Livermore loves pizza and is confused about leftovers. In Livermore, the proper process is to chuck pizza boxes and leftovers into the Organics (compost) cart. Pizza boxes are considered food-soiled paper (as are most fast food paper wrappers), and pizza crusts are considered food scraps – all of which goes into Organics. However, we found households were evenly split over whether to put the box in Recycling or Organics.
• Livermore is a thirsty bunch, and cup sorting is a challenge. What is the preferred destination for takeout cups, lids and straws? These items are made of both plastic and paper, and each needs to be handled differently. This leads to a lot of consumer confusion. We found that no matter if the cups were for cold drinks (plastic) or hot drinks, (paper) the majority ended up in the recycling cart, along with their lids and straws. But, the lids and straws actually go into the garbage, and the paper cups go in the organics. This kind of contamination adds considerable expense for waste haulers and ultimately can drive up trash rates. (Please Note: This is a general observation and not a prediction for Livermore.)
• Livermore has beautiful yards, and sorting the waste is a conundrum. Throughout the week we “ooh-ed” and “ah-ed” at the beautiful yards and landscaping in the neighborhoods we saw. However, many residents seemed to assume that anything from the yard belongs in the Organics cart. In fact, certain items like pet waste belongs in Garbage, not Organics. Putting whatever blows (or gets pooped) in people’s yards into the Organics cart causes another costly contamination headache.
We saw some clear consistencies in what was going right and wrong in the carts. Next we will tabulate our findings, design an outreach campaign to focus on the most prevalent behaviors that need to change, and afterwards, check those carts again. We look forward to helping the city and the citizens of Livermore “sort out” any issues and move forward with their waste reduction goals.
Agencies 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 #4—Thou 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 #5—Thou 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 #6—Thou 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.
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 wonks, 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.
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.