Can social marketing provide a model to address New Zealand’s major environmental problems?

Reduce Your Rubbish (April-June 2003), Conference Paper at Social Marketing for Social Profit (16-17 October 2003) by Steve Menzies, Public Awareness Adviser, Ministry for the Environment

1. Executive Summary

The ‘Reduce Your Rubbish’ campaign (April-July, 2003) was developed, in partnership with regional councils, to raise awareness of New Zealand’s growing waste problem and encourage householders to take some simple actions to reduce their rubbish.

This was the first time the Ministry for the Environment had worked together with regional councils, territorial local authorities, and business partners, on a national mass media programme to promote environmental awareness and action in the community.

The campaign was specifically designed to test whether central and local government could collaborate on future programmes to raise public awareness and promote action on other major environmental issues.

Impetus for the national campaign was provided by the release of ‘The New Zealand Waste Strategy’ in March 2002, which called for the implementation of a long-term public education and information programme. The Strategy includes a number of voluntary targets, such as the delivery of national recycling facilities, and the diversion of organic waste from landfills.

With the underlying message of “Rubbish- it doesn’t go away”, the campaign aimed to personalise rubbish, and encourage householders to take some simple and positive actions. These national messages were designed to fit with a range of different local services. For example, not all areas have access to recycling services.

The campaign was based heavily on the experience of Auckland Regional Council and their public education programme, “The Big Clean Up”. The Ministry helped to adapt this approach in a way that could clearly meet the needs of multiple stakeholders and a national audience.

Qualitative research was used to help define the three key target behaviours:

  1. recycle as much as you can
  2. compost your kitchen scraps and garden waste
  3. shop environmentally – reduce rubbish by what you buy

Campaign communications included five television commercials, a campaign website and 0800 number to direct people to local services, print media, events, and an online competition, the “Reduce Your Rubbish Household Challenge”.

Research shows the national “pilot” campaign has had a significant effect on promoting awareness and action towards New Zealand’s growing rubbish problem. Twenty percent of the population say the campaign had a positive effect on their awareness, attitudes or behaviour.

‘Reduce Your Rubbish’ has provided the Ministry for the Environment with a successful working model that will provide the basis for future programmes to raise awareness, and promote direct action, to protect New Zealand’s environment.

2. Campaign objectives

The key objectives of the Reduce Your Rubbish campaign were to:

  • Raise awareness of New Zealand’s growing waste problem and promote specific actions to help householders reduce their rubbish.
  • Develop a collaborative model for cost-effectively promoting environmental awareness and action in the community.

3. New Zealand Waste Strategy

The Ministry’s key objective was to deliver an integrated public information and education campaign as an integral part of the New Zealand Waste Strategy (2002) . The strategy clearly identified the need to inform and educate the community about the problems and solutions around reducing waste at source, recovering resources and the disposal of waste.

The Strategy recognised that a number of policy tools, such as information, education and regulation, are needed to achieve its goals. It also recognised that changing our behaviour towards waste would require consistent, long-term, national messages supported by regional and local programmes.

The Reduce Your Rubbish Campaign provided an opportunity to pilot a public information and education campaign and identify any gaps for future campaigns.

4. Who was involved?

Ministry for the Environment, Auckland Regional Council, Northland Regional Council, Environment Waikato, Taranaki Regional Council, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council,, Greater Wellington, Marlborough District Council, Environment Canterbury, Environment Southland and Otago Regional Council.

Although “waste” was not a core strategic objective for many regional councils they saw the benefits of testing whether they could work together to cost-effectively promote community awareness and action on other environmental issues.

5. How did it work?

Local Government New Zealand worked as a broker between the Ministry and the regional councils and helped to clearly outline the benefits that would result if the participating organisations were able to find a way of combining their resources.

The campaign was developed and managed by a Steering Group that included representatives from regional councils and the Ministry for the Environment. Regional councils worked together with the territorial local authorities to develop supporting programmes that matched local needs and services.

A Project Team of representatives from the Ministry, regional councils and territorial local authorities worked together to develop advertising and media tools. The Ministry provided a dedicated Project Manager for six months to coordinate the project and ensure that the regional communications managers were provided with as much support as possible.

The project management process relied heavily on the use of a dedicated Project Website to coordinate activities and materials among a large number of campaign participants at a national, regional and local level. This website ( includes all the main project management, creative, and evaluation documents relating to the campaign.

6. Funding

Funding was provided by the Ministry for the Environment and regional councils (on a population basis). The budget for the core national campaign was $400,000 and additional contributions from regional, territorial local authorities and business sponsors took the total amount spent to over $800,000. Nearly half of this total budget was used to produce and broadcast national media tools such as television advertising.

7. Understanding the target audience

The decision to the focus on the householder as the key target audience was based on the experience and success of the Auckland Regional Council and its householder programme “The Big Clean Up”.

Their approach was based on the assumption that the best way to promote positive change across other sectors, such as business, was to communicate directly with their customers. This was seen as the most effective way of identifying public need and driving demand or support for all the tools and services required to meet it.

Every effort was made to start with the target audiences’ current understanding of the waste problem and the barriers the public faces in adopting specific behaviours.

In September 2002 a national workshop with waste, environmental education and communication people from the Ministry, local government and industry, helped to develop the creative brief for advertising company Colenso BBDO.

Creative concepts were taken to five focus groups around NZ (Auckland, Palmerston North, Wellington, Blenhiem and Dunedin). This testing helped to shape the key campaign messages, and concepts, for the target audience.

The findings from the focus groups were used to identify the key barriers and even name the campaign. They helped us to move away from talking about ‘waste” to talking about ‘rubbish’. “Waste” was generally seen as industrial/toxic, whereas householders related to putting out their “rubbish” on a weekly basis.

The key finding of the qualitative research was the degree to which we had succeeded in taking the problem away from householders. With rubbish it was definitely a case of “out of site, out of mind”.

Many people thought they were already doing all they could to reduce their own rubbish and that the technology to solve the problem already existed. Some thought there was no need to separate their rubbish at home because it would somehow be sorted at the landfill. Many people simply failed to see there was much of a problem with putting rubbish into landfills.

Interestingly, recycling was seen as good in itself, as it saved the need to use virgin raw materials. However, many people did not directly link recycling with diverting rubbish from landfills. In fact recycling was almost like a solution in search of a problem.

One of the key objectives of the campaign was to “personalise” or reconnect householders with the waste problem for and make people think about whether they really were doing all they could to reduce their rubbish.

The focus groups confirmed that we needed to raise awareness of the problem and connect people to it by focusing on the simple, positive, things that everyone could do to make a difference. We decided to focus on a recycling message because that was where the audience could most easily connect with the wider reduction message.

We used this research to develop the key messages for the campaign:

  • rubbish - it doesn’t go away
  • rubbish doesn’t break down in a landfill – recycle
  • 65% of your rubbish can be recycled or composted

The focus group findings that helped to shape the campaign approach are available on the Ministry’s website (see Research and evaluation).

The focus groups also helped us to determine the key actions that we wanted people to take. We wanted to promote actions that would:

  1. Meet with the target audiences’ understanding of the issue
  2. Be easy to simple and easy to introduce into their daily lives
  3. Match the availability of existing services (not all places have access to recycling)
  4. Match the relevant targets set out in the Waste Strategy

We were able to refine these actions further by surveying 2000 members of the Auckland Regional Councils “Big Clean Up” programme. Surveys were sent to householders asking them to consider the ease with which they could incorporate a range of rubbish reduction actions into their daily lives.

The focus groups and surveys helped us to develop the following 8-point plan

  1. RECYCLE YOUR CARDBOARD, PAPER, GLASS, CANS AND TYPES 1 AND 2 PLASTICS. Call your local council to find out about your local services.
  3. IF YOU DON’T NEED A PLASTIC BAG, DON’T TAKE IT. Take your own bag to the shops.
  4. BUY PRODUCTS WITH RECYCLABLE PACKAGING. Cardboard, paper, glass, cans, type 1 and 2 plastics.
  7. IF YOU CAN’T COMPOST OR MULCH AT HOME, KEEP YOUR GARDEN RUBBISH SEPARATE. Arrange a garden rubbish collection or take it to a transfer station for composting.

This plan was eventually refined down to 3 key actions for the campaign website:


Actions such as “Say no to junk mail” were removed because up to 50% of respondents said that they liked to receive this material. Some decisions were not based entirely on research findings. For example “worm-farming” was rejected as being too trivial to promote to a mainstream audience.

8. What did we do?

  • Five television advertisements broadcast nationally for five weeks.
    • 2 “problem” ads (The Book and The Sweeper)
    • 3 simple “solution” ads: recycle, compost, “If you don’t need a plastic bag don’t take it”
  • Bus shelter advertising
  • Supermarket trolley advertising
  • Print – posters and stickers distributed through councils
  • News media, including radio
  • Website, and an 0800 number, to provide more detailed information and direct people to local services
  • The ‘Reduce Your Rubbish Challenge
    This online competition was developed to show householders how they could improve their rubbish reduction activities during the month of June. This complemented the national advertising and provided incentives for householders to reduce their rubbish. Over $10,000 worth of prizes, and a great deal of free promotion, was provided by some of New Zealand’s leading businesses including: Fisher & Paykel, Progressive Enterprises, Vertex Pacific and the Ecostore.
  • Working with business – businesses such as Progressive, The Warehouse, and Living Earth provided excellent opportunities to communicate the main campaign messages through their existing communications channels. For example, The Warehouse provided significant messaging and branding, in one of its weekly mailers sent to 1.3 million householders. In this mailer it provided a special reduced price of $24.95 on Vertex compost bins (made from recycled plastic). As a result of this promotion they sold more than 1500 compost bins putting over $40,000 worth of recycled plastic back into the marketplace.
  • The research programme – to both develop and measure the campaign

9. How did we do?

a) Campaign reach

This research showed the 3-month campaign had a significant effect on promoting awareness and action on New Zealand’s growing rubbish problem. Nationwide awareness of advertising about the rubbish issue was 42% (a potential audience of more than 500,000 households). 28% of New Zealanders said that they had seen or heard something specifically about the Reduce Your Rubbish campaign. 20% said that the campaign had a positive effect on their awareness, attitudes or behaviour.

  • 10% say it reinforced their attitude
  • 7% think it increased their awareness
  • 2% say it improved or changed their behaviour
  • another 1% say it changed their attitude.

Most thought the main message was recycling at 59%, with 27%, saying the main message was about reducing packaging. The composting message barely registered with just 6%.

b) Rubbish reduced

The lack of consistent monitoring information means it is difficult to quantify the impact that the campaign had on reducing the amount of household rubbish (both green waste and recyclables) sent to landfill.

Kerbside recycling operators reported un-seasonal increases in the amount of recyclable material collected during June 2003. Although figures varied from increases of 11% in South Canterbury, to 22% in New Plymouth, an estimated average national increase of 10% would have resulted in the diversion of 6000 tonnes of material, per month, from landfill.

c) Media

Media monitoring was also used to gauge the effectiveness of the campaign. More than 130 positive articles on the ‘Reduce Your Rubbish’ campaign appeared in newspapers throughout the country. The key message was the collaboration between the Ministry and Regional Councils. More than 50% of the articles were about local politicians and householders entering the Household Challenge. There was ongoing coverage in the NZ Herald in July and on the TV3 Consumer Programme “Target” in August 2003.

d) Reduce Your Rubbish Challenge

Despite active promotion, good media coverage, and excellent prizes, the challenge received only 1300 entries. It is highly possible that many householders, except for the advocates for community action, were simply put off by the idea of someone coming into their home and checking through the contents of their rubbish bins (no matter how good their efforts were!)

In a separate research project, a PhD student interviewed 40 Wellington householders who were aware of the campaign. All of these respondents claimed that they felt no need to discuss the campaign with other people in the community. This information indicates that we need to find more effective ways to engage the support of our advocates or opinion leaders in pushing the key messages and behaviours throughout the rest of the community.

10. Understanding our audience

The campaign targeted all New Zealand householders and the ConversionTM research model was used to help analyse the effectiveness of the campaign on specific audience segments. The model was based on attitudes to the following 3 lifestyle options:

  1. A totally environmentally considerate lifestyle where you consider the environment in almost everything you do;
  2. A pragmatic lifestyle in which you consider the environment only when it’s reasonable or practical to do so;
  3. An unconcerned lifestyle which doesn’t consider the environment at all.

The research was also carried out on a regional basis, providing invaluable information for the ongoing improvement of future national campaigns. A key research objective was to develop a better understanding of those people who were most likely to adopt new behaviours and advocates who could help network future environmental messages throughout the wider community

A nationwide survey covered 10 regions: Northland, Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Waikato, Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington, Marlborough, Canterbury, Otago, and Southland. A total of 400 telephone interviews (40 interviews per region except Auckland) were conducted for the benchmark and the follow-up. In addition, the data from the ongoing ARC monitor was used for the Auckland region (80 interviews per sweep, which were down-weighted).

The lifestyle results (see Research and Evaluation) from the benchmark survey in March 2003 and the post-campaign survey in June 2003 segmented the sample into the seven categories, which were grouped into the three main sectors of the target audience. The environmentally considerate (“dark greens” and “greens”) are the advocates who will take community action. The pragmatics (“slipping greens to ambivalent greens”) are ready to change behaviour and the unconcerned (“easy greens” and “browns”) have closed minds and their attitudes were not changed by the campaign.

This image shows the survey results which are summarised in the text of the paper.

There was a backwards shift in the target audience over the campaign. The same phenomenon occurred between ARC’s Big Clean Up benchmark and the first quarterly reading. An explanation of this backwards shift includes;

  • In the benchmark, there may well have been significant overclaim of the appeal of the totally green lifestyle, especially from those who may in fact not be so ‘green’;
  • Better understanding of what it means to consider the environment in almost everything you do, in part through the campaign raising awareness;
  • Increased attraction of the totally green lifestyle to those who see themselves in lifestyle “available to greens” but want to do better.

The importance of reducing the amount of rubbish dropped slightly during the campaign, with 58% of respondents saying it was a major issue for them, compared to 61% in the benchmark. The number of people saying they did a lot to reduce rubbish also declined from 44% to 41%. Similar trends were recorded with the introduction of the Auckland Regional Council’s ‘Big Clean Up’ programme and may reflect a re-evaluation of individual attitudes as a result of the campaign.

Over a longer-term campaign it would be expected to bring the target audience back up to the March 2003 benchmark.

There were regional variations in lifestyle classification by region:

  • Northland, Hawkes Bay, Canterbury and Southland becoming more environmentally involved;
  • Auckland, Taranaki, Waikato, Wellington, Manawatu-Wanganui and Otago becoming less environmentally involved;
  • Marlborough stayed relatively stable.

However, it must be remembered that both surveys are ‘snapshots’ only. Furthermore, external influences, such as the introduction of kerbside recycling in Dunedin (Otago) or the debate about whether kerbside recycling should be used in Invercargill (Southland), had a significant impact on these results.

11. What were the benefits?

Research shows that, despite the relatively low cost of the campaign, this collaborative approach across the public sector, has delivered real benefits to the participating organisations and the wider community.

The campaign had a significant impact on public awareness and behaviour, particularly given the limited time resources, and media spend (five weeks of national television advertisements). Over the same period there was considerable media emphasis on the Iraq war followed by the SARS epidemic and then the Target 10% power saving campaign ($1.5 million). The result reflects the quality of the national products and the real value added at the regional/local level.

The campaign has enabled us to develop a range of communications tools, such as the TV commercials, that may be used again at a regional level or in future national campaigns. The website will continue to provide a useful resource for householders and communities throughout New Zealand.

The national research programme used to analyse the effectiveness of the campaign has provided an invaluable benchmark that will allow future campaigns to be more effective in segmenting the target audience and promoting behaviour change.

Council surveys show that relationships between participants were strengthened as a result of the campaign. The success of this campaign has proven that local government can collaborate effectively with central government, and the business sector, to promote environmental awareness and action in the community.

It is likely that this national collaborative framework will be used again to raise awareness and promote action on other key environmental issues such as water quality, air quality and biodiversity.

The Ministry also believes that the campaign will provide an invaluable platform, for building on the Waste Management Institutes’ Lifeafterwaste initiative; a long-term national public education programme to generate support for the New Zealand Waste Strategy.

12. What did we learn?

The planning and execution of this collaborative campaign took place within the very short time frame of 12 months. One of the major lessons was that, to be fully effective, a similar collaborative project would need at least 18 months to get full “buy-in” from our local government partners and deliver to the public.

The campaign process and research programme have identified areas where we can greatly improve our performance in planning and implementing any future campaigns.

It was clear from the campaign research that a voluntary behaviour change programme to get householders to reduce their rubbish would require significant and sustained investment to achieve only incremental change.

Public education to promote voluntary behaviour change must be clearly integrated with other policy objectives and tools such as regulation and economic incentives. Short-term campaigns such as “Reduce Your Rubbish” can be effective if they are used to raise public awareness and support for the introduction of other tools such as services, incentives and regulation.

Providing simple, positive, messages to encourage behaviour change, must be clearly linked to local infrastructure and services. In a general sense social marketing can help us to improve the “vertical integration” of solutions to environmental problems, by informing policy development and providing a much better understanding of the barriers to changing individual behaviour.

The emphasis on monitoring behaviour change also highlights the need to link these public education programmes to quantifiable environmental information such as increased levels of recycling and composting or the amount of rubbish entering our landfills.

National programmes must focus on very specific behaviours but allow for variation to meet local needs. The message and communication “channels” must adapt to meet the changing needs of the audience. And, as we move forward, we need to find more innovative ways to engage our advocates and opinion leaders who can help to take the rubbish reduction message and behaviours out to the wider community.

Last updated: 17 September 2007