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!

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!

 

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.

Do As I Say: How Influencers Affect Behavior Change

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…!

 

Food Waste’s Impact on Climate: What Do Californians Know?

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

Going Plastic-Free in Pandemic Times: A Tough Job

Click above to see the phases of Dennis’ Plastic-Free July waste audit.

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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.

2 images of plastic sorted  by type with alternatives to try to reduce it

Our Commitment to Environmental Justice

photo of george floyd mural and oakland protest

We support the historic efforts by the Black Lives Matter movement, seen here at a march in Oakland, May 2020.
Photos: Thomas Hawk, CC license (left); Daniel Arauz, CC license (right).

We are living in truly historic times, a potential turning point for race relations in this country. At Gigantic, we acknowledge our place of privilege, and are working to use the learnings from environmental behavior change to make our work and our company more effective change agents. Studies show that racial injustice and climate injustice are intimately intertwined — one cannot be addressed without addressing the other. We recognize that working for environmental justice must be at the center of our efforts moving forward.

Making solutions that work for all communities starts with listening to under-heard Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) voices now and from the past. We honor and learn from the work of those who have come before in striving for environmental justice, including Van Jones and DreamCorps/Green for All, the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Greenlining Institute, Planting Justice and so many more activist and outreach organizers in the Bay Area, from the Black Panthers to Diablo Rising Tide.

We recognize that we have much more to learn, but also that actions must accompany words in pursuit of environmental justice.

As we know from our work, commitment, especially public commitment, is a key tool for behavior change. Therefore, we are making some initial public commitments:

  1. Gigantic will work with industry organizations (such as NCRA and CRRA) to create and support leadership pathways (e.g. scholarships and donations) for BIPOC interested in zero waste professions. Starting now, we are adopting a company policy to set a yearly goal for donated money and labor to support this important work. For 2020 we will donate up to $2,000 in financial support and $2,000 in Gigantic staff labor hours to fulfill this goal.
  2. We pledge to actively advocate for BIPOC-centered spaces in our industry at the discretion and leadership of BIPOC professionals/community members.
  3. We will continue to engage our clients in conversations around inclusive stakeholder engagement and true representations in all media, keeping environmental justice top of mind.
  4. Further, we recognize that this is a process that will require ongoing, sometimes difficult, work as a company to track and incorporate racial and environmental justice values in our practices, and we will consciously dedicate time to regularly evaluate our progress and set challenging goals.

Bolstered by heroic past examples and inspired by present actions and activists, we are hopeful these contributions, however small, will help progress toward a just and sustainable future.