Selling Nothing: Outreach to Reduce Consumption

Survey questions asked about current consumption attitudes and habits.

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

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

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

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

Key takeaways include:

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

Our research and efforts continue!

See the presentation:

 

When in Doubt: The Power of Subtraction

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

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

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

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

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

Gigantic is Hiring a Marketing and Public Outreach Associate!

We’re hiring! GIS logoThe 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
  • Copywriting

Additional qualifications:

  • 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

We offer:

  • 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 lisa@gigantic-idea.com

 

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

Effective Environmental Messaging in the COVID-19 Era

With the effects of COVID-19 spreading across the globe and the entire state of California required to stay at home as much as possible, we are living in a truly challenging and unprecedented situation. What does this mean for Gigantic’s clients, mostly local government agencies and non-profits involved in environmental behavior change? Business as usual seems a little unrealistic. How can we live into the needs of our audiences to provide information and encouragement while still living our mission?

Local Government has a particular opportunity to choose a friendly and positive tone with messaging:

  • “We do real, important stuff.” Emphasize essential services like waste collection that are ongoing, rain or shine. Point to specific workers who are getting it done.
  • “We are your neighbors.” We live here, too, and want the best for the community.
  • “We’re In This Together.” Has never been more true. While this message does not move everyone (no message does), now is the time to stress universal cooperation, as no one is immune or untouched by COVID-19’s effects.

Communicating with the public via websites, email or social media posts is still a possibility and an opportunity. Of course, the tone of the messages is important and may need to be adjusted during this period. We all know this is a high-stress, challenging time. This is no time for playing the blame game (e.g., asking people to avoid excess packaging by ordering online). We need to put aside some of our favorite themes (such as promoting the use of reusable cups).

Messaging is more important than ever, and already we are seeing how poor messaging can have consequences. For example, we hear a lot about “social distancing” — an accepted term in epidemiological circles — that is not immediately understandable or resonant with the general public. Social what? One could assume it means “staying off social media” rather than “staying six feet apart.” Perhaps “physical distancing” would be more appropriate. In these times we want to encourage stronger social bonds – checking on neighbors and families online, for example – while maintaining a physical distance.  The group March for Science recently summarized tips in a Facebook post:

The communication best practices of clarity, specificity and simple language apply now more than ever. The WHO’s recent ad on Google’s home page does a good job:

One thing we know is that people are turning to social media as an alternative to chatting by the office coffee maker. It is still a good time to converse with our constituents! Topics for posts revolve around our “new normal” here in California:

What AREN’T people doing?

  • Going out to bars, clubs and restaurants
  • Spending time at the office
  • Planning trips/parties/picnics

What ARE people doing?

  • Cooking
  • Working from home
  • Home schooling the kids
  • Gardening
  • Spring Cleaning
  • Shopping online
  • Using products, such as wipes and gloves, that they may not have used before (see image below.)

There are plenty of ideas for messages now:

  • Yard waste goes in the green cart
  • Avoid garden chemicals – hand weeding can be very soothing
  • Planning meals (so many meals!) to avoid food waste
  • Wipes belong in the trash
  • Take time to sort
  • Appreciation for waste haulers and others working during this crisis
  • Calming pictures of local landmarks and nature
This Facebook post gives a relevant environmental action for a now-common behavior: the use of disinfectant wipes.

Of course, if COVID-19 becomes even more dire, there may come a time when cheerful posts about recycling gin bottles strike a false note. As always, those of us who communicate with the public need to live into what our audiences are experiencing and choose when or if it’s appropriate to communicate about particular topics.

From the whole team at Gigantic Idea Studio: Be well!

Communicating Climate Urgency Through Art

mural of Greta Thunberg in San Francisco
Greta is watching us…

At Gigantic, we understand that facts and figures are important for advancing science and for communicating about issues such as the impact of climate change. But plainly presented facts are not always ideal for inspiring action and behavior change.  Visual and performing arts can be very useful for helping people see the larger picture, grasp relationships through story and create an emotional response that will reinforce action. Two Bay Area examples show the way.

In downtown San Francisco, a 60-foot-high mural of climate activist – and TIME Person of the Year – Greta Thunberg fixes passersby in Union Square with an implacable look. The mural is a project of the nonprofit One Atmosphere and Argentine artist Cobre. Ms. Thunberg is an icon of climate resistance and the single-minded passion of young climate activists all over the world. This 16 year old has become a heroic and still very human and vulnerable face of the climate movement; the mural’s unavoidable stare serves as a prominent reminder of the need to raise climate awareness.

Also in San Francisco, the Climate Music Project seeks to “ tell the urgent story of climate change to broad and diverse audiences in a way that resonates, educates, and motivates.” A collaboration of world-class scientists and musicians, the Project supports science-guided music and visual experiences to inspire people to engage actively on the issue of climate change.

I recently saw a concert of pieces inspired by climate change data by San Francisco Conservatory of Music composition students and was impressed by the different creative approaches the students took to portray the grim statistics.

Artists around the world are grappling with how to express the enormity of the emergencies of climate and biodiversity loss. Their work can inform and enhance our outreach efforts and remind us of the importance of vivid communication in all our environmental work.

For Environmental Challenges, We’re All in This Together

We face a lot of challenges in our work at Gigantic, as we encourage, cajole and persuade folks to recycle, reduce waste, use less water or reject chemical products. The problems of pollution, waste and climate change are so immense that the actions of one individual seem unimportant, even useless. Recently we are seeing this message amplified even by those on the “right side” – environmental activists. 

demonstrators with signs asking for systems change
Both individual and group actions matter in the face of environmental challenges.

A recent article getting a lot of attention was headlined: “I work in the environmental movement. I don’t care if you recycle.” The article itself was a balanced call to action, outlining that while individual actions matter, change must also be initiated at the government, policy and corporate levels in order to avoid catastrophe. But the headline really bothered me. I worried for the huge percent of readers who might see the headline (it spread through social media) and absorb its message without reading the article. The last thing we need at this point is for individuals to give up, thinking they can’t make a difference. The intertwined threats of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss need technological fixes and legal intervention, but they also need the understanding, support and commitment of every individual, be they an inventor, a lawyer, a CEO, a mother and/or an artist.

Social change can only come with individual change. Major positive change throughout history —  abolition, civil rights, workers’ rights — came through a combination of channels, including popular entertainment, lobbying, advertising, media, organizing, protesting, boycotts and, all of the one-on-one conversations and commitments initiated by people who care. 

Technological fixes, viral memes, policy change – there is a panoply of responses to immense environmental challenges. There is no single solution; every step must be a “yes, and” – we need this AND that. In our work with public agencies, we always encourage a multi-touch, multi-directional approach – top-down and bottom-up – for the most effective campaigns.

I’m an environmental activist. I want systemic change at every level. I want government and business to step up and take steps that are not going to be easy or pain free. I want everyone to consider the consequences of their actions. AND…I care if you recycle.

Plastic Free July, Take 2: Lessons for Behavior Change Campaigns

Plastic Free July turtle logo
The Plastic Free July campaign uses norming and pledges to encourage behavior change.

I just completed my second Plastic-Free July! This is a worldwide event that draws attention to the enormous, and enormously damaging, place that single-use plastic holds in our daily life.

While a single person’s actions may not seem to make much impact on the 8,000,000 tons of plastic that enter the ocean each year, we’ve got to start somewhere! And, it is possible to draw some lessons from the month-long discipline to help us think about behavior change.

Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good

As with any behavior change, it’s important not to punish yourself – or your target audience – if /when you fall off the wagon. I searched and searched for a non-plastic toothpaste tube, to no avail. I finally found a glass jar of toothpaste in a homeopathic shop. Yes, it had a plastic lid, but I decided the compromise was acceptable. And I got used to the taste! 

In our campaigns, we avoid showing super heroes – because the behavior change we are after doesn’t require super powers to do the right thing. “Regular” people can make a big difference. We steer clear of messages like “Can you get all your waste for the year into a peanut butter jar? No? What’s wrong with you?” Instead, we try to make the desired behavior attractive and achievable.

Boundaries Bring Freedom

Supermarket shopping gets a whole lot faster when single-use plastics are off limits. Entire aisles of cookies, chips and crackers are forbidden to the plastic avoider. How relaxing! I can avoid temptation and adhere to good plastic-free consumption and nutrition habits at the same time.

Freedom is an important value in the American psyche, and is one that environmental campaigns may be able to take more advantage of. Taking a restriction (reducing use of plastic or pesticide or water, for example) and reframing it as freedom can be an effective behavior change message.

Think Before You…Do, Buy, Cook, Toss!

One of the most important benefits of going plastic-free is a growing awareness of how often we cruise through life on auto-pilot. Going plastic-free means remembering every time to say, “No straw, please,” “Please use my reusable cup,” or “Can I get that wrapped in paper, not plastic?”

In behavior change campaigns, we look for ways to ingrain a new behavior, to create a body memory out of increased mindfulness. Several of our campaigns here at Gigantic now emphasize the the intelligence of our community members. “You’re smart about other things in your life, why not be smart about recycling?”

While I have not been able to stay completely plastic free, the search for alternatives to plastic is starting to become a comfortable behavior, and is making me more aware of things I take for granted. Carrying my work into my life, and vice versa, is very rewarding.

One Size Does NOT Fit All: Tailoring Effective Environmental Outreach

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a magic brochure template? Something that we could just pour your content into and, voila! outreach campaign launched. Just stick it in the mail and all will be well. We wish effective environmental behavior change worked like that, but, unfortunately, one “size” of outreach plan, not matter how magical, does not work for all. Each situation is different and requires a custom approach that takes into account the problem, the environment (cultural, social, political, and yes, natural) and the desired and feasible solution.

The Gigantic team’s presentation at the 2018 California Resource Recovery Association Conference gave examples of outreach campaigns that provided tailored approaches to the challenge at hand. Outreach aimed at “everyone” will effectively reach no one. If you want to maximize impact, do your research and start with the best “low hanging fruit” — this will provide immediate results and data for future phases.

Choosing the Right Style for THAT Guy

Kas described our work with a concerned citizens’ coalition in Marin County with a mission of reducing the use of environmental toxins – pesticides – by county residents. The group’s call to action was to encourage the uptake of Integrated Pest Management practices (IPM) to replace toxic chemicals. IPM requires knowledge, planning, special tools, and yes, awareness to become a workable solution. Our survey indicated that the people most likely to use chemical pesticides were males who valued speed and effectiveness over safety. See the presentation below to see how we targeted THAT guy to raise awareness of this smart, if challenging, alternative.

Butting in on Cigarette Butt Litter

Meghan presented two litter-reduction case studies that highlighted the challenge when the desired environmental solution – providing a safe and easy way to dispose properly of cigarette butts – clashes with the public health solution – discouraging smoking by not providing ashtrays at transit shelters. No easy answers there!

Finding A Well-Cut Solution

Nancy presented on Gigantic’s ongoing work with the City of San Rafael to understand and address the very specific needs of a district of the city where illegal dumping had become a big and expensive problem. What at first seemed like a simple brochure need turned into a research project to understand the real barriers that this low-income, high-density community experienced when faced with what to do with a bulky item that was no longer needed.

Here is the CRRA presentation covering the above topics. Please let us know if you have questions or would like to talk about how we can custom-tailor an outreach campaign for you.