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, 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.
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.
California SB 1383 looms large on many of our clients’ minds—and on ours, as we help with the outreach portion of implementing the law locally. It’s an exciting prospect to see not only downstream measures like organics recycling mandated statewide but also upstream prevention, with the requirement to recover 20 percent of currently disposed food that’s edible to feed people. In this blog, we share some of our experience creating outreach tools for food recovery.
For local jurisdictions, this means not only figuring out the nuts and bolts of a functioning food recovery system, but also how to communicate to the affected parties. And the clock is ticking—by or before February 1, 2022, jurisdictions need to provide “outreach and education” to the first wave of affected commercial edible food generators as well as food recovery organizations and services.
The law may seem overwhelming, but fortunately a lot of the basic principles of good outreach are helpful here:
Segment your audience(s)
Consider your outreach and messaging to the different audiences as separate efforts. For example, the content, timing and channel of your outreach to the first wave of large food businesses (the state calls them “Tier 1” businesses) will differ from the second wave of smaller food businesses (called “Tier 2”), and both will differ from food recovery organizations.
There will likely be only a small number of Tier 1 businesses for most counties, and they will require direct outreach—phone calls, web meetings, emails and visits. Your learnings from reaching out to Tier 1 can help streamline your efforts for Tier 2. Consider this a test run!
Put yourself in the shoes of businesses — they are not steeped in “1383” like we are. Since this is new territory for all parties, consider having interviews or web meetings with businesses to help you develop your content and/or test your messaging to see if it is clear.
Create outreach tools with clear and inclusive language.
Craft messaging with an eighth-grade reading level in mind—which is what magazines and popular literature generally use.
- Avoid regulatory terminology as much as possible and translate industry jargon into everyday terms anyone can understand.
- For example, define the term “recovery.” This is a term unfamiliar to businesses. Our clients have found it preferable to using the term “donation.” If that’s the case for you, help your audience understand what “recovery” is and provide context. For example, say, “Separate edible food that would otherwise be composted or landfilled so it can be “recovered” to feed people.”
- Be considerate and inclusive in your language e.g., say “food insecure” rather than “hungry.”
Plan a “multi-touch” outreach effort.
- Start with an official notification letter, mailed 6 months in advance. Keep your first “touch” simple, high level and focused on what’s coming. Rather than overwhelming them with details, get people’s attention first.
- Create a web page or site to hold detailed information, including any legal documents such as a local ordinance or a model contract for edible food collection services.
- Follow up your letter with direct outreach to affected businesses and food recovery organizations. Business outreach best practices have always relied on phone calls, emails, meetings and technical assistance to get results.
- To build general awareness of 1383 in the business community, consider partners like chambers of commerce, business associations and environmental health departments, and ask to be included in announcements using their email lists and social media channels.
SB 1383 is a complex law and an exciting prospect with laudable goals. Using the basic rules of good outreach and remembering that businesses need direct outreach, you will be on your way to helping California put edible food to better use—all while fighting climate change!
We’re hiring! The Marketing and Public Outreach Associate (MPOA) will be in charge of developing strategies for delivering communications and advertising content to the intended audience. Our campaigns promote environmental programs and behaviors on topics such as wildlife protection, recycling, waste reduction, local ordinances, gardening workshops, composting, litter prevention, water pollution prevention and more.
The MPOA associate enjoys planning and executing both online and offline strategies to reach diverse audiences. From running social media and digital ads and sending e-blasts, to working with local and online influencers and community, businesses or business organizations, our goal is to create community-based outreach plans for our clients that deliver measurable engagement. Our campaigns range from hyper-local (cities, neighborhoods) to regional or California-wide.
Ideal candidate has experience in planning, managing and reporting online and off-line marketing, including:
- Managing paid promotions in house: set up ads on Google/YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok; and expand reach to other platforms, as appropriate
- Managing media buys with vendors
- Implementing E-blasts, e-mail campaigns
- Placing and managing streaming audio or video ads
- Staying current with best practices of social media and digital advertising, and updating the Gigantic team
- Familiarity with and ability to negotiate, purchase and place ads for print, outdoor, point-of-sale and other offline promotions
Additional experience or interest in one or more of the following is also highly desired:
- Setting up/managing webinars or online workshops
- Planning and posting social media content
- Creating social media/media content
- Great communication and presentation skills are a must: the Associate will communicate and present media plans and campaign results to committees, clients and our internal team.
- Multi-cultural media experience and/or bilingual in another language is a big plus.
- Ability and interest in further training and skill-building is also a must. We are small firm and ideal candidates like the flexibility of doing more than one type of task/role within our tight-knit and supportive team. We are willing to provide training for the right candidate to attain optimal job performance
- Competitive compensation based on candidate’s experience, portfolio and references.
- A supportive small-team company culture.
- Benefits include health insurance, IRA contribution, paid vacation, sick and holiday time
- We are open to discussing arrangements from 30 to 37 hours/week.
- Associates can work from home at this time, but we prefer some days in the office when we get to post-COVID conditions.
Please submit a resume and cover letter, and include a description and results of one sample campaign that you implemented. Email to email@example.com
One of the challenges of zero waste outreach is how to convince people to NOT do something: buy new stuff. Every day Americans are bombarded by thousands of slick, seductive ads encouraging the purchase of shiny new things that they may or may not need. Helping the public to understand that “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a list in priority of importance is tricky. How can reducing consumption be positioned as a positive?
While residents contemplate a New Year clean-out, our recent “Re-Solve to Re-Home” campaign for Zero Waste Marin introduced three alternative solutions to throwing away: “Swap. Donate. Share.” This messaging allowed us to position a positive, feel-good message to finding new homes for old items. We were able to take advantage of the recent uptick in “Buy Nothing” groups and other social media outlets for neighbor-to-neighbor ways to swap stuff.
We also experimented with the message that we all learned back in kindergarten: the feel-good advantage of sharing. We incorporated this into the Marin campaign with a pitch for cooperative ownership and neighborhood tool lending libraries.
Encouraging source reduction in a consumer society is an uphill battle but reframing “not buying” as doing something more social and fun or helpful is an important part of the effort!
Well, if there’s one word none of us would like to hear in 2021, it’s “unprecedented.” Throughout 2020, so many things we took for granted in the world of zero waste and recycling outreach, such as promoting reusable bags and cups, had to be postponed or replaced with COVID-19-related topics, such as sorting shipping waste or putting masks and gloves in the trash.
Now the holidays are here, and we find ourselves in the same outreach predicament. We can’t rely on tried-and-true holiday campaigns like our “Giving the Gift of Good Times” video for Santa Clara and Marin Counties. (Click here for the 2019 version). No-waste gifts that involve groups of people, such as fitness classes, dining out, amusement park passes, or theater tickets are not a viable option this year. Even food waste reduction topics need a fresh take, as gatherings have been reduced in size or cancelled altogether, and some of our neighbors are facing food insecurity.
For our clients this year, we helped adjust messaging to cover these topics in a way that aligns with public health guidelines and new realities. For example, for Palo Alto, we created a “Create Joy, Not Waste” ad, web page and bill insert (above) to align with hosting a small gathering with Zero Waste style. Actions like portion planning, using reusable dishes, recycling bottles and cans and decorating with compostable decorations still make sense, even if it’s just for your own household.
We re-envisioned our Zero Waste gift idea list to remove gifts for in-person activities and include those that offer online versions, such as art classes and music lessons and streaming theater. Local options for all of these were available, offering another benefit to the community. Outdoor recreation is at an all-time high, so national and state park passes can replace amusement parks.
And lastly, if staying home means we’re more likely to buy “stuff” this year than past years, we made sure to provide options for zero waste gift ideas that eliminate or greatly reduce packaging waste—shampoo bars, unpackaged handmade soaps, or subscriptions for refillable beauty products.
We hope this inspires you all to keep the Zero Waste holiday outreach traditions going. Small tweaks to the messaging are all it takes.
In case you haven’t heard (!) – it’s election time. The season has been particularly intense this year. One approach for reaching voters and potential voters is through influencers – individuals who have built up a relationship with devoted fans who take cues from them. Observing how these powerful people affect behavior and outcomes can be very relevant for those of us working for environmental behavior change.
Our environmental campaigns often feature people who share likes, interests and world view and demonstrate the behavior we want to see. We may target occasional gardeners to get them to use less toxic pesticide, or campers to get them to use recyclable propane containers. These folks often take cues from someone they admire, who shares their interests and values – that is, from influencers.
This article in Behavioral Scientist notes that (in general) influencers don’t have universal influence; but, they have impact and authority with those in their group who identify with them.
The article suggests:
One way to strengthen a group identity is to help people understand the causal connections between that group and other important aspects that people use to define themselves. Peaceniks should be told how important belonging to the group is to fostering world peace; football fans need to associate their local club with achieving football glory.
A recent CNN article gave several examples of nonprofits working to encourage influencers to get young people to register to vote. Being a successful influencer means you identify with the population you are trying to reach, and you are comfortable with the channels (such as TikTok or Animal Crossing.)
Influencers don’t have to have millions of followers:
“We’ve found a way to build a program of influencers big and small; most have around 1,000 followers. Makeup bloggers, Greek life on campus, doggie Instagrams, drag queens and everyone in between have been really receptive to us sliding into their dm’s [direct messages] to save democracy. Our influencers are typically nonpolitical and have audiences who trust them, so when they are providing links to register or pledge to vote we see really great engagement levels,” said Heather Greven, communications director at NextGen America.
And then there are the questionable incentives that some influencers offer their millions of followers in return for an action. The YouTube star David Dobrik got 120,000 people to register to vote…by offering a sweepstakes to win a Tesla! David got the idea from a fan, who posted the idea on TikTok. Ironically, as a Dreamer immigrant from Slovakia, Dobrik cannot vote himself.
What does this have to do with those of us working for environmental behavior change? The advantage of engaging with influencers for waste reduction or energy savings are the same as those to encourage voting: find and work with influencers – not necessarily eco-people – who already have a relationship with a target group and help them (don’t tell them to) create behavior change. But maybe cool it with the extrinsic motivation – no promising folks an electric car if they give up single use bottles…!
Reducing food waste and diverting it and other organic materials from landfill is key to reducing methane emissions in the state. California’s SB 1383 establishes targets that many businesses are now working to meet. The implementation of SB 1383 was a major focus at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) Conference. As results come in, communicating about SB 1383 implementation and the efforts to reduce emissions will be important; but how much do Californians already know about food waste and its connection to climate change? We conducted a brief statewide survey of Californians to ask a few questions about their understanding of greenhouse gas emissions, landfill and food waste. Some responses were heartening, some were a bit depressing, but data emerged about how to communicate these concepts to different segments of the population.
See the slideshow:
To summarize, we noted:
- Most Californians do acknowledge that climate change is happening, and that human activity is a major contributor.
- However, 40% of respondents do not connect food waste with the climate.
- Many people are unclear about what happens to food waste in a landfill.
- Messaging about “doing the right thing” may resonate with several different audience segments.
As with any outreach effort, it’s best to understand how much your audience knows and how they feel about a particular issue before designing a campaign. This survey is just a first step in thinking about how to message about food waste reduction efforts and their relationship to the climate crisis.
If you would like a copy of the survey report, please email Gigantic.
Members of the Gigantic team have been observing Plastic-Free July for some years now (see past blogs). Besides being the right thing to do, it lets us understand how it feels to set and strive for challenging environmental behavior goals. This year, going plastic-free has been harder than ever, as COVID-19 concerns have made plastic more common, even in places like the farmers’ market, where it was rare before.
Team member Dennis Uyat decided to keep a record of the plastic he could not avoid during July, despite his best efforts, and reflect on how it could be avoided.
To get a handle on this pile, Dennis sorted the waste into categories. Note the new arrivals this year: PPE masks and gloves, which are a huge, problematic addition to the waste stream.
Next, Dennis came up with a strategy for avoiding these items in the future. While “reduce use” is a common call-to-action, we also like the gentler, more encouraging “do your best.” No one likes to feel like a failure at waste reduction or anything else!
Plastic is a problematic material. Lightweight, flexible and adaptable, it is also, more importantly, a pervasive, harmful pollutant that has reached all corners of the planet and into our bodies. Efforts like Plastic-Free July can help raise awareness of the ever-present plastic in our lives and help us be more mindful about avoiding it as much as possible.
In early March, when the coronavirus still seemed like an obscure disease, the Gigantic team was in full swing, preparing for Earth Month. For Clean Water Program Alameda County, we had created outreach event kits and were about to promote countless litter cleanups. For Santa Clara County, we had partnered with dozens of coffee shops to launch a “bring your own cup” campaign. My own calendar was full of gatherings, including the big climate march in honor of Earth Day’s 50th anniversary. Then stay-at-home orders hit the Bay Area, and everything involving a group of people in person was canceled. How could Earth Day turn 50 without a celebration?!
After the first shock, many Earth Day organizers started to take activities online. After all, if everything from staff meetings to Quarantini Happy Hours can happen remotely, why not Earth Day too? In the beginning I was skeptical, wondering if honoring this important date in physical isolation could instill the same sense of community as a march for the Earth or a creek restoration event with likeminded people. But as our team kicked into action to reimagine campaigns and retool outreach materials, like we did for Clean Water Program, I started to see countless new opportunities to build awareness
and change behavior. “Earth Day at Home” can open our eyes to many powerful actions that we’d usually be too distracted and busy to take. This may be the time to do a 10-minute fridge reality check and learn new habits to prevent food waste. Try one of many delicious plant-based dishes, good for our own heath and that of the planet. Stroll around the backyard and discover how even a modest patch of native plants can support a little universe of insect diversity. The team of Oakland’s Earth Day 2020 has compiled many more such actions—in fact, over 50!
Looking beyond our homes, I’m heartened to see so many creative approaches aimed at bringing people together while keeping everyone safe. The Smithsonian’s virtual Earth Optimism 2020 Summit offers four full days of webinar workshops, films and conservation success stories from around the world. An online event by the Climate Music project and National Academy of Science explores the intersection of music, climate science, and community action. The California Coastal Commission is sharing highlights of their work (and awe-inspiring photos) from wetlands to coastal wildlife all #EarthMonth long. The list of events goes on, with many compiled on a searchable global map by the Earth Day Network.
As I now ponder Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, I feel hopeful about the event’s power to bring the environment back into focus, connect people who care about the Earth on a larger scale, and maybe ring in a new era of activism once restrictions lift again. To all our clients, allies and fellow environmentalists, Happy Earth Day!