Curbing Pollution through Outreach

Behavior change tool inspires community action

Municipalities often tackle stormwater pollution using technology, a system of inspections and enforcement, and routine catch basin upkeep. These methods can abate stormwater pollution, but they do not address the root of the problem: people and businesses, oftentimes unknowingly, engage in polluting behaviors.

Several California entities have taken a scientific approach to the art of educational outreach. The cities of Long Beach and Los Angeles and Santa Clara County worked with environmental public education consultants S. Groner Associates, Inc. to change polluting behavior with a technique called community-based social marketing.

Through pollutant-specific outreach work, the consultant produced measurable results, including increases in the amount of recycling of used motor oil and filters as well as a decrease in illegal dumping.

What was that technique?
Community-based social marketing (CBSM) is a behavior change process rooted in social psychology, predicated on the use of research, direct interaction with community members, and evaluations to measure results. Although most CBSM literature espouses a four-step process, Professor P. Wesley Schultz of California State University, San Marcos — one of the nation's leading experts on CBSM and applied social marketing research-- advocates a five step process:

1. Identify a specific behavior in which the audience should engage.

2. Determine barriers and motivators to engaging in the desired behavior.

3. Develop intervention(s) that will break down barriers or promote motivators.

4. Implement pilot.

5. Evaluate intervention strategy.

In a recent publication, Schultz outlined the four main strengths of CBSM. "First, the decisions made at each step of the program are based on empirical data. Second, the program is piloted on a small scale before large-scale implementation. Third, the program evaluation ensures that there is data to substantiate the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the program. Fourth, CBSM focuses on behavior rather than attitudes or intentions."

In applying CBSM to stormwater pollution, the consultant tackles common, specific pollutants, such as used motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, paints, and pet waste. Outreach campaigns are developed for a single pollutant at a time, identifying a specific audience and behavior, and then designing a campaign to address key motivators and barriers.

What happened in Long Beach?
From 2004 to 2007, the consultant carried out a regional effort to increase used motor oil and oil filter recycling by Long Beach, Compton, Lynwood, South Gate, and Huntington Park. The consultant wanted community members to take used motor oil and oil filters to certified collection centers for disposal. Using intercept surveys to analyze the audience, the consultant determined barriers and motivators to properly disposing the oily pollutants. The most significant barrier was a perceived lack of convenience. An effective motivator was the children in the community. SGA developed several design concepts and tested each with the target audience. The most compelling artwork was the design depicting a little girl stepping into an oil pan with the phrase "Dump Used Oil and We All Get Soaked."

The consultant developed a toolbox of outreach tactics that included partnerships with local auto parts stores, used oil and filter collection events, and outreach at car shows through partner car clubs. A majority of these tactics involved one-on-one interaction with individuals and obtaining commitments from the individuals to recycle the pollutants.

At the end of the campaign, SGA compared data obtained before and after the campaign, and found a:

• 38 percent increase in used oil collected,

• 52 percent increase in used oil filters collected, and

• 33 percent decrease in the reported amount of illegally dumped oil.

Not a one-size-fits-all project
Stormwater pollution prevention campaigns can and will be similar, but campaign organizers must be flexible in responding to the research results. SGA encountered such a situation when carrying out campaigns for Los Angeles and Santa Clara County.

As with Long Beach, the target behavior was to recycle used motor oil and oil filters. Research found that Los Angeles' target audience was motivated by the Los Angeles car culture, image, and through peer pressure. Artwork addressing the motivators was developed using the slogan "Your Street—Don't let 'em trash it." The artwork was hip, urban, and reminiscent of graffiti.

To reach this audience, the consultant focused on using car club members as its messenger and conducted outreach to other car clubs, at car shows, through high school shop classes, and through auto parts stores. At the end of the campaign, the community had a 44 percent increase in used oil collected and a 10 percent decrease in illegally dumped oil.

Santa Clara County asked SGA to carry out a similar campaign, focused on increasing used oil recycling and decreasing incidences of abandoned oil. "Los Angeles and Santa Clara's target audiences were very similar," said Stephen Groner, SGA president and founder who directed strategies for both campaigns. "So we thought the Santa Clara campaign would mirror our work in Los Angeles, but initial research into the communities' barriers and motivators said otherwise."

Santa Clara's audience was motivated by family, children, and their community. As a result, the "Your Street" artwork did not resonate. Instead, Santa Clara's target audience responded to the little girl in an oil pan graphic with the phrase "Dump Used Oil and We All Get Soaked."

To reach this family- and community-oriented audience, the consultant conducted outreach through local churches, at church events, through retail stores, community media, certified collection centers, and by hosting family-oriented collection events.

"CBSM is grounded in the local community," said Schultz. "What works for one population might not work for another population because CBSM programs are tailored to work at the local capacity." The consultant customized its campaign to Santa Clara's distinct population and the efficacy of the adjustments showed in the results: a 70 percent decrease in incidences of abandoned oil. In addition, Santa Clara increased oil collection from a reported 1,100 gallons before the campaign to 2,600 gallons after the campaign.

"After nearly 10 years of CBSM campaigns, one of the dynamic facets of the process is that no two campaigns are exactly alike," said Groner. "Campaigns are oftentimes similar, but never duplicates. I believe it's this community customization that makes CBSM so effective at changing behaviors."

About the Author

Tiffany Jonick is a project manager at S. Groner Associates, Inc. (SGA), a community relations firm based in Southern California that advocates pro-environmental behaviors amongst community members. She can be reached at 562.597.0205.

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