Gigantic Idea Studio Hosts NewCo Oakland Session

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

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

Touched by the Cart: Five Recycling Videos with Emotional Appeal

Stevie Wonder sings in a recycling video from the early 1990s
Stevie Wonder sings in a 1991 recycling PSA.


Haulers, waste agencies and environmental outreach professionals have been working for decades to improve the U.S. recycling rate, yet overall the country’s recycling rate is around 34 percent – so there is much room for improvement.

Part of the challenge that we see is putting the emphasis on operational facts before attracting people with an emotional appeal.  Search for “recycling” in YouTube and you get almost 900,000 results. Most of the top hits focus on how to recycle. Some examine if it works, or problems with recycling. But very few focus on why people should recycle, which is a very important factor in encouraging behavior change. In fact, the video results indicate how we take recycling for granted, assuming everyone is already on board and participating. The truth is, even with established behavioral practices, it helps to periodically boost morale with a new appeal that is fun, moving, or otherwise stirs our feelings.

There’s a kind of taxonomy that emerges if you look at enough videos that encourage recycling. Here are some categories with examples of different approaches, mostly light-hearted, that aim to increase recycling and composting activities:

“Here’s What to Do”

This is a classic “what goes where” video from Livonia, Michigan.  The viewer is given no context, no appeal to emotion, just “this is what to do.” (And it’s not so simple, either!). While the information is important, the delivery could be more compelling:

Hot Tunes and Celebrity Sightings

This 1991 classic from an earlier time of recycling outreach has action-packed celebrity sightings and groovy music in an attempt to make recycling cool. The video played on MTV and in move houses and was part of an integrated campaign by the Take it Back Foundation that included classroom curricula and the development of a resolution introduced to the House and Senate to declare April 15 “National Recycling Day.” It’s a great example of use of using a catchy campaign to increase awareness. (Bonus – how many of the celebs can you name?)

This Cal Recycle video combines humor and a self-deprecating celebrity “endorsement” from Ed Begley Jr., as the public is shown that you don’t have to be a star to make a difference.

Personifying Trash

Some campaigns take the point of view of the stuff being recycled rather than the recycler, as in this video from Keep America Beautiful. It was created following research that showed that only 10 percent of Americans have a recycling bin in their bathroom:

Personifying the Bin

If creating empathy for trash doesn’t help, how about empathy for the recycling and compost bins? Here’s one example from the UK, aimed at making folks more mindful of those useful outdoor bins:

At Gigantic, we thought that creating an organics cart mascot would raise awareness, and use of the green cart when we created this video for the City of Livermore:

We’ll be looking at the use of memorable messaging to increase recycling and composting participation during our session “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting the Message to Matter” at the CRRA conference this August. We hope to see you there!

Bite-Sized Outreach: A Single-Material Campaign Focuses on Food Waste

A typical set of curbside recycling instructions can leave residents confused. At this year’s California Resource Recovery Association/SWANA conference in San Jose, Gigantic Idea Studio presented an alternative approach: make it bite-sized.

To kick off our session on behavior change outreach and food waste diversion, Wendy Wondersort (aka our own Stefanie Pruegel) hosted the Sorting Game, with NorCal competing against SoCal to win the coveted Golden Pizza Slice. One team was given a long, complicated list of recycling instructions. The other received more straightforward directions. Can you guess who won?

The golden pizza slice winner
And the winner of the coveted Golden Pizza Slice is…Deb Phillips of the San Joaquin Regional Conservation Corps!

The Sorting Game helped us demonstrate how too many messages can lead to poor recycling outcomes. To show a real-world example, we presented the concept and results of a single material outreach campaign conducted with our partners at the City of Livermore earlier this year. This “bite sized” campaign focused on one material – pizza boxes – and used multiple tactics to reach residents. The simple instruction: pizza boxes go in the green cart.

To make our outreach message memorable, we created a “story line,” where Binny, the hungry green Organics cart, visits with a Livermore family as a dinner guest and craves the delicious pizza box once the family is finished eating.

The slideshow below goes into detail on the strategy and tactics of this multi-touch campaign, including partnerships with businesses and community organizations, creation of a 30-second video and accompanying contest, and a combination of online and offline tactics to ensure that residents got the message.

Early results show an increase in the number of pizza boxes correctly sorted and a greater confidence in proper disposal amongst residents surveyed. The City of Livermore has been a great partner, and we look forward to piloting more single-material campaigns in the future and continuing to share outcomes.

Questions?

There were many great questions at the end of our presentation at CRRA, and we wanted to share answers to a few of them:

What were ancillary benefits of the campaign?slide sample: multi-touch campaign

While focusing on one material, we were able to build a character and storyline around it that we can now leverage for other single-material campaigns. In addition to seeing some positive operational results, the campaign’s contest offered the opportunity to opt into receiving Livermore Recycles e-news updates; two-thirds of all contest entrants opted in to receive these news updates.

Is brand consistency between campaign and program recommended?

In general, it is a good idea to have a consistent look and feel for campaigns launched by an agency, and that was our strategy for this campaign. There may be instances when a more neutral or different campaign branding might be appropriate, if appealing to a segment like young people or those who might be distrustful or fearful of government agencies.

Could this type of campaign/strategy be scaled up to a regional or statewide level? 

A bite-sized approach can be scaled up or down, depending on the target audiences. However, a regional or statewide campaign may need to consider leveraging additional or different tactics from a local campaign.

Do you think this type of campaign could be applied to business outreach? 

Absolutely!

Resources

Here are some resources we recommend for further reading on behavior change theory:

Diffusion of Innovations, Everett M. Rogers

Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Doug McKenzie-Mohr

The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Influence, Robert Cialdini

Fleurette Sevin: A Reuse Artist to Watch

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.

DSC_2880_WebSM

Fleurette Sevin
Recycled Glass Artist
Walnut Creek

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.

Want to know more about Fleurette? Find her here:
http://www.flower7.com/
https://www.facebook.com/Flower7Art
https://www.etsy.com/shop/Flower7

Our April Fool’s Quiz Answered

Our April Fool’s quiz asked readers to say which of four possible waste reduction innovations was true:

4 waste reduction scenarios
A, B, C or D?

A. Self composting organics carts in Abu Dhabi,

B. Pneumatic tube waste system in Germany,

C. Recycling drones program in San Jose, or

D. Cat hair balls in the organics stream in Portland.

The right answer is B!  There is, as some of our commenters pointed out, a long history of using pneumatic tube systems to collect trash. The practice began in Sweden, and has been used since in several towns in Europe, at least one Olympic Village, and even at Disney World. Our own Stefanie Pruegel let us know that the system installed in Munich for the 1972 Olympic Games is still in use, now serving the 3,500 condos created from the Village once the games were over. She knows this because her mother lives in one of the buildings.

We were delighted by the erudite and thoughtful responses of so many of the commenters. Of the 16 “votes” received, six picked B, followed by three each for A and C, two for D (ah, those cat lovers!), and one for None of the Above. Thanks for taking up the challenge and responding with such care.

One thing the blog and your responses made clear: When it comes to waste reduction (by which we mean all of the 4RS— not just “reduce”/prevention), there are many right answers…and some have not yet been discovered. No fooling!

(In case you were wondering: the April Fool’s blog author, Avril Poisson, is not a new Gigantic staff member; it’s just a play on words from the French version of April Fool’s, Poisson d’Avril.)

 

Cat Memes, Recycling, and Lessons Learned: Our New Year’s Poll Results

At Gigantic, we always try to be creative and light-hearted, so when it came time to send a New Year’s greeting to our email list, we decided to try something a bit different: a greeting with a link to a five-second poll, asking folks to vote on which of the two images (below) they would most likely click:

composting fruitcakeOur greeting was sent to Gigantic’s email list and posted via Facebook and Twitter. We were delighted by the response: a 46% open rate on the email, a whopping 64% click-through rate, 101 poll votes and over a dozen comments on the blog. We know via Analytics that most of the visitors on January 6 (the day we published the poll) were new to our website, and that on average, folks stayed on our site nearly one minute — not bad for a 5-second poll!

Our original intent was to draw attention to the popularity of cat memes  and to suggest that pop culture knows a thing or two about spreading ideas. Well, you surprised us. The winner is … Option A! Receiving 58 percent of the votes, this more serious image showed a stale fruitcake going into a typical organics pail for composting. The adorable kitty, juggling the fruitcake before tossing it in the bin, garnered only 42 percent. This startled us on several counts (we thought the kitty was cute and was the obvious choice for attracting more eyeballs), and as we analyzed the results, we drew several lessons:

Clarity matters. Several comments argued that more specificity was needed in the kitten image, noting that it wasn’t clear that the fruitcake was destined for the bin in Option B. Our text asked two questions: “Which image are you more likely to click?” and then “Which image do you find more memorable and effective for getting out the food scrap recycling message?” In hindsight, we realize that combining “memorable” and “effective” confused the issue. Our intention was to illustrate the importance of getting attention before providing information; our wording needed work. Which leads us to:

Testing matters. Had this been a “real” campaign, we would have spent a lot more time designing our objectives and creating alternative messaging. Ideally we would have run a pilot, testing images, messages and the manner of distribution to match the kind of data we wanted to elicit.

Engagement matters. Before we can deliver any message, we have to cut through the “noise” and get attention. The volume of response, via email opens, click-throughs, and blog comments, far outran previous e-blasts to our clients. Frankly, this was one of our goals: to test how and if we could stand out amid the dozens of emailed New Year’s greetings. We focused on a short, punchy subject line that emphasized a time-limited response and a request for assistance (“help our research by taking this 5-second survey”). This probably aided our open and click-through rates.

Once we drew visitors to the blog post, we included the kitten picture as a way of drawing the eye, because we know the best messaging in the world won’t get through if we can’t attract attention. While the image in Option A may have been more clear, we note that much of the reaction centered around the kitten. Does this mean we’re suggesting that everyone should use kittens in their recycling campaigns from now on? Not at all. But paying attention to what’s “hot” in pop culture could yield some great outreach ideas that might lead to an increased waste diversion rate (or whatever your particular goal is).

As with all campaigns, we resolve to take this learning and build upon it for future efforts. Thanks to all who voted, and may your 2014 be filled with fun and effective green behavior change campaigns, with or without kittens!

Selected comments:

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Recycling Spot Checks: Flipping Lids in Livermore

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.

Stef and I flipping Livermore 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 IMG_2610differently. 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.

 

What’s in a Word? Waste Term Survey Shows Consumer Confusion

OK, we admit it: we’re waste word wonks. But when it comes to encouraging correct recycling behavior, words are the key to deeds.CRRA_screenshot

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 socal team with prizeswonks, 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.

the NorCal team

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.

Using Graphic Design to Win Hearts and Minds: Is it Possible for Government?

Man with mobile phone.According to the U.S. government’s own definition, graphic designers “create visual concepts, by hand or using computer software, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, or captivate consumers.”

But how often do government communications actually inspire or captivate?

Our clients often say they want to “educate” or “inform” residents about their program. But in behavior change, we know that merely providing information does not guarantee action. We know we need to inspire and persuade — not just inform — and design plays a big role in meeting this challenge.

That said, we acknowledge there’s a time and place for just providing information, such as rate increases or service changes. In these cases, direct mail of a simple letter in an official envelope is the best way to cut through the clutter.

But when it comes to increasing participation in programs — from recycling and composting to planting trees — government should give creativity free rein. Here government agencies need to establish an emotional connection with the audience to overcome old habits, win over hearts and minds, and inspire change.

But wait, you say, “we need to look like we’re being responsible with taxpayer [or ratepayer] money, so we can’t do anything flashy or frivolous.” At Gigantic, we firmly believe there is a creative solution that is both engaging and appropriate, for every type of environmental campaign funded by public agencies. In fact, we’d argue that you could be wasting taxpayer money by not making it captivating. If no one notices your outreach, there’s no point in doing it.

And, we’d argue that a human-centered, thought provoking and positive concept — presented through a clutter-free design with professional imagery — has the best chance of attracting fans to your programs.

Here’s an example of one of our latest projects, for a government workplace recycling program. The project included both instructional and inspirational pieces, which were displayed separately to increase their impact. Here is one of the inspirational pieces.

food scrap recycling

Here’s another example, done for the Pentagon, which uses an emotional connection tailored specifically to the men and women charged with the security of the nation:

SCS_Pentagon1

And this campaign, done by another advertising firm for StopWaste, a public agency, is a great example of using humor to engage viewers:

122151292008cup

Wouldn’t you say these examples above have a better chance of increasing participation than a sign, like the one below, that merely tells us what to do without explaining why?

gaw

We know it’s not always easy to be captivating, but given the myriad messages that people are bombarded with every day, it’s more important than ever for government communications about environmental programs to offer more than just instruction. Government communications should include vibrant, contemporary images and catchy concepts to increase the receptivity of the message and therefore, the effectiveness of the outreach.