While campaigns exist to promote reductions in certain products – such as Meatless Monday and banning plastic bags – or around certain issues – such as Buy Nothing Day – two North American cities created comprehensive outreach campaigns to reduce the consumption of new material goods. Portland, OR’s Resourceful PDX and Flagstaff, AZ’s Be Resourceful programs provide resources and information to community members to make “...simple changes to help you save money, support your community, conserve natural resources, and enjoy more time with friends and family.” (Source) Both programs share information, connections to local businesses, and events that promote resourceful lifestyles in four focus action areas:
- Buy Smart: purchasing gifts of experience, choosing quality, durable products and planning ahead before making purchases
- Reuse: Choosing second hand, salvage and vintage, swapping or repurpose something old into a new creation.
- Borrow and Share: Cutting down on clutter by borrowing, sharing, and renting items.
- Fix and Maintain: Extending the life of your stuff with basic maintenance and repair. (Source)
Value Proposition for Sustainable Consumption
The campaign utilizes the following principles:
- Highlight actions that have the highest impacts;
- Focus on abundance, not on self sacrifice;
- Utilize messages that celebrate and validate what people are already doing;
- Emphasize social norming with pictures of people taking action, storytelling and examples rather than directives;
- Focus on consumers' moments of need, rather than on the point of purchase;
- Provide a multi-year, seasonal framework; and
- Provide specific resources and information about how to take action rather than dwell on why people should take action.
Potential City Roles
- Develop programs/services—incubate programs, perhaps in partnership with other organizations. These programs could potentially be handed off to another organization in the future.
- Own—coordinate and operate Resourceful programs (Source)
- Build Partnerships—Identify agents, professionals or community groups who have contact with people who are in the moments of transition and find ways that they can include Resourceful messaging and tools.
Implementation Challenges and Potential Solutions
Resourceful PDX uses positive messaging and promotes activities people can adopt in their daily lives. It also provides links to specific businesses that provide goods and services that support these ways of living. This approach seemed to have two problems when the messages solely came from the City. The program listed specific locations and resources, including local businesses. The City received feedback that the City was promoting specific businesses, which was not an appropriate role for local government according to feedback from some community members.
Meanwhile, responses on the program’s blog, which promotes positive activities and resources, provided feedback that the City should have higher priorities than promoting rental companies that provide reusable flatware for a wedding. In light of this feedback, the Resourceful PDX campaign moved to a separate website and became a presenting partner with a non-profit and another local business who lists businesses with sustainable practices.
Another major challenge to resourcefulness campaigns is that communicating information and providing prompts to remind individuals to act doesn’t necessarily lead to behavior change. To make these campaigns more effective, it is useful to combine them with improvements in infrastructure and services, with incentives and increased convenience, and with changes in social norms. Doug McKenize-Mohr’s Community-Based Social Marketing provides a practical framework for building effective, integrated behavior change campaigns.
After a year-long pilot in 2010, the City of Portland hired a contractor to test the effectiveness of the campaign to understand public opinion about consumption to establish a baseline for future comparison. The evaluation model was carried out in three phases: 1) A review of branding, messaging, and promotional materials; 2) focus groups; and 3) A phone survey. The second two phases focused on attitudes and perceptions towards sustainable consumption, specific messages, language, and demographic profiles.
The research confirmed that the campaign was headed in the right direction. The survey demonstrated that Portlanders were ready to participate in the specific resourceful activities. Over three-quarters of survey respondents agreed that by incorporating the previously mentioned activities, residents would spend more time with family and friends, and that it would make life more interesting and fun. Overall, survey respondents did not feel resourceful living would take too much time or be bad for the local economy.
Research has also provided the City with tangible ways to improve the campaign. The original campaign focused primarily on the value that taking the action would provide people. Residents felt that this was too heavy handed. “We know why we should do these things, we just don’t know where or how to do them.” Cross-tabulation with demographics responses showed that this lack of knowledge regarding available resources was particularly pronounced in lower income communities.
Informed by the 2010 study, in 2012 the City refreshed print and online materials to focus on specific, detailed examples of community resources and how to take the action. Research also identified specific life changes when people are more open to changing their consumption habits and are actively seeking information on how to consume. Based on this understanding, the City developed a seasonal framework to guide the provision of resources during “Times of Transition: Moving, Home Improvement, Growing Family and Back to school.”
In 2012, the City also changed the name from Be Resourceful (because the public felt like the City was telling them what to do) to Resourceful PDX (to shift the focus to how and where to be resourceful.)