Helen White, a senior consultant at Resource Futures, follows up her latest article in the CIWM Journal with the first in a series of exclusive online features looking at the role of communications in the industry CIWM Journal Online Exclusive
In my last article for CIWM, featured in the January issue of the Journal, I made the case for the importance of continuing to support recycling communications activity – despite ever-increasing pressure to scale back budgets, which is easier said than done in a climate of cuts I know.
But I also stressed the value of focus, as well as funding, in influencing positive behaviour change. And that’s about employing a strategic approach to the development of communications using a proven planning process that takes into account the changing context; modifying methods and messaging rather than merely maintaining the status quo. Circular: as opposed to linear (and where have we heard that before?).
The four Es model originally developed by Defra specified four actions that should underpin any attempt to change behaviour: Enable, Engage, Encourage and Exemplify, and whilst I think most of us in the industry would now accept that it is not enough simply to give someone a recycling container and expect them to do the right thing, there is a risk, especially when times are tough, to resort to an equally cognitive approach of providing little more than an information leaflet and letting people get on with it. Where’s the Engagement? Where’s the Encouragement? And is it any wonder England’s recycling rate is flat-lining?
Trying to influence people’s behaviour is nothing new. In the 19th Century, “the father of English advertising” Thomas J. Barratt bought the copyright to a Sir John Everett Millais painting and used it to sell Pears soap. And since then, marketers have adopted a strategic approach to entice us into buying, well, just about everything. From soap to sofas! Only it seems to have taken an awfully long time to apply the same principles to behaviour change, especially in the resource efficiency sector.
The WRAP communications planning cycle is a best practice process consisting of nine logical and linked steps for developing a coherent recycling communications strategy based on evidence, not opinion. “Background” is the crucial first stage and should incorporate a thorough understanding of current and proposed resource management strategy and services as well as socio-demographics: information about the area, its people and their lifestyles. This informs the next stage of the process – Situational Analysis, an assessment of the current position (as well as what needs to be achieved and by when).
Other important aspects, and which, incidentally, no traditional marketing strategy would be without, include: Target Audience, Branding and Message and Campaign Activities – with updated advice on utilising social media.
The Importance Of Data
Luckily, local authority recycling data will tell you pretty much everything you need to know to improve performance. Monitoring identifies areas of low participation, the waste composition of residual waste gives insight into what materials are not being captured for recycling and analysis of recycling containers signals if non-target materials are contaminating these collections. Doorstep conversations can help residents to recognise specific barriers (and generate solutions for overcoming them) and a network of active community groups can be a powerful ally. Add objective and regular analysis of communications materials and messaging and you have the rationale for the development of a reasoned strategy and an argument for the delivery of an effective and practical communications campaign.
The analysis and interpretation of quantitative and qualitative data into meaningful messages and methods can present a challenge to the inexperienced marketer. But help is at hand. WRAP’s good practice guidance, “Improving Recycling Through Effective Communications” provides an introduction to developing a recycling communications strategy and a methodical approach to planning for behaviour change whether getting started with recycling communications, keeping communications fresh or expanding existing activity to new collections or specific issues.
And of course, there are a few industry experts around!
This is the second in a series of articles discussing the role of communications in resource management. Next time, Resource Futures takes a look at awareness-raising and behaviour change.
 4Es model for behavioural change – ‘Securing the Future’ the UK Sustainable Development Strategy (Defra 2005).