Are awareness campaigns for sustainability effective?
Twenty years ago, numerous national communication campaigns emerged.
These campaigns, which targeted the general population, were usually complemented with local and municipal initiatives at schools. By the beginning of the economic crisis of 2011–16, the population was already environmentally conscious and aware that,due to the many waste streams that go through a household, recycling should start at home. By stimulating consumers who are more sensitive to environmental causes, companies have also contributed by sharing messages that encourage good practices to improve their strategic positioning. In some cases, we could question whether we face a “green washing.” Nevertheless, these campaigns did contribute to a population that is better informed and committed to the environmental cause.
Children understand the broader meaning of “saving.”
As the last decade came to an end, one bank (encouraged by the proximity of World Savings Day) promoted a study to assess how Portuguese children — aged between 6 and 13 years old —perceived saving. Surprisingly, not only did they understand the meaning commonly attached to the word “cutting costs” but they also had specific and strong ideas relating to the ecological need to save. In fact, 20 % of children associated savings with sound environmental practices such as saving water and energy. In other words, environmental consciousness had grown among younger people, and it had been transferred into their quotidian lives. It would be interesting to conduct a new study today. However, it is clear that the results obtained were due to a higher sensitivity to the topic that resulted, above all else, from the various communication campaigns that had been developed at the time. This way, it is possible to confirm the impact and importance of these campaigns yesterday, today and tomorrow.
These initiatives promoted a change of habits and the creation of new routines.
As such, these awareness campaigns should be well structured and continuous throughout the years. Nowadays,however, campaigns are sporadic and punctual. They are replaced by general news regarding the companies’ sustainability initiatives, national governments'decisions, and the European Commission, which is spread in the press and social media.
If we focus on household waste, did you know that there are waste collection networks for almost every type of residue today?
This includes used cooking oils, corks, coffee capsules, packaging, electric and electronic devices,lamps, batteries, tires, car oil, expired pills, and their respective packages,and printing and writing paper. Some types of waste are missing from the list.However, soon, some of these types will also have a collection network, such as organic waste and packaging containing dangerous waste. This information,however, is not widely known.
Communication allows us to acquire more clients and ambassadors for the environmental challenges that lie ahead.
When we communicate good practices, even individually, concerning energy, mobility, water consumption or marine litter, it has an impact in not only one but across all environmental sustainability areas and even the ones that are not linked to it as the above mentioned study confirms.
Therefore, awareness campaigns that foster sensitivity toward sustainable practices on a national level must always be present in any environmental strategy.
The aforementioned is a pressing issue now more than ever, given the growing ambition of national and European targets. I am not in any way defending that we need more government intervention, but I firmly believe in the impact that communication has on effectively changing people’s behaviors. Therefore, I see two alternatives:
1. Either those who have legal responsibility for managing the waste promote the campaigns; or,
2. Government incorporates the responsibility of creating awareness among the population, financing the campaigns through those who have (at least) legal obligations to fulfill.
This is what can be determined by the results achieved so far.
This content was originally written in Portuguese and published in Blog Executive Education Nova SBE.
Luís Veiga Martins
Associate Dean for Community Engagement & Sustainable ImpactWebsite
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