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Composting: inspiring behavior change

Last week, San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom passed into law an ordinance that requires all residential and commercial building owners sign up for recycling and composting services. Composting services?

Yes, joining other similar programs in Seattle, Boston, San Diego and Pittsburgh, residents will be required under threat of fine to contribute their yard waste and food scraps. The fines aren’t meant to aggravate, rather Mayor Newsom is interested in incentivizing compliance.

On the face of it, the composting effort seems a bit complex in its implementation and infrastructure. Or is it? In actuality it’s fairly straightforward, it simply requires a mindset shift with an extra few pieces of equipment at the homestead and office. Of course we all groan when we think we might have to throw our banana peels into a separate bin. But once we’re used to it, and our city is at 90% waste efficiency with community gardens, urban parks and micro-farms benefiting, what’s to deter us from making a little extra effort and re-train ourselves now?

Herein lies the challenge. The opportunity for San Francisco will be to imaginatively engage us in a herculean effort to educate AND motivate compliance.

The “Reduce Reuse Recycle” campaign has gained some strong ground, thanks not the least in part to its proficient use in elementary school these days (what parents have not heard their kid come home chanting this?). It’s a catchy phrase with an easy icon that we all recognize. And the three descriptive words help us understand at a base level both our actions and the big picture. No small feat.

And there have been other more entertaining efforts. The “Got Milk” campaign introduced by the California Milk Processor Board in 1993 has been credited with increasing milk sales nationwide. The San Francisco based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners created that one. And remember the California Raisins? Introduced in 1986 by the California Raisin Advisory Board, another top agency Foote, Cone and Belding created that one.

This is not to say that all campaigns need professional-grade characters with narratives to entertain us. The digital world has actually provided us with a rich array of channels that may be employed. And companies like Virgance have shown us that there is no limit to creative methods of employing social activism.

San Francisco, like many cities, is not exactly rife with cash to employ a hot ad shop to devise its strategy, but hopefully this trend-setting city will get resourceful and seek creative solutions and partners for engaging and motivating positive behavior change.

Written by Kelli Peterson

Kelli Peterson is a brand and communications strategist with 20 years of professional experience in the corporate and non-profit world. Kelli is the founder of The Change Project, a collaborative consultancy focused on creating value and positive social impact through the power of brand. Kelli is a sometimes blogger, an avid world traveler and passionate about creating change.

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  1. I just began composting myself. It may take a little effort, but it feels good to know that I’m contributing that much less to the solid waste stream. I created a space in a corner of the yard where I am piling grass clippings and food waste. The hardest part was finding the spot. I have to walk the grass clippings somewhere. It may as well be there. I have to put my food waste somewhere. It may as well be a separate bin. The big change is walking the food waste up to the compost area every other day, but it’s hardly a hassle. We could all use the extra walk. Who among us hasn’t said, “Gee, I should exercise more!”

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