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Reaching your audience in the digital world

Plateauing recycling rates demonstrate that we have most likely reached an ironic state of equilibrium in resource management services in the UK.

To make greater gains, to move solidly towards a circular economy, disruption is required to shift things along and create a true balance in the use and management of our natural resources.

I am often asked what is needed to push up recycling rates, encourage waste reduction and reuse. My answer is simple: restrict bad things, encourage good stuff and lead by example. This applies to individuals and organisations.

Above all, it requires significant improvements to the way we communicate. For example, we are afraid of what people might think if we restrict the bad things, such as the unending opportunities to dispose of as much rubbish as we like or to select the disposable option (BBQs, cutlery, those lanterns that float off at sunset) with a clear conscience and healthier bank balance.

We are afraid because we hear dissent, negativity and scepticism, fed to us by ‘representatives’ or mainstream media as ‘public opinion’.

At a time when budgets are constrained, it might seem daft to be suggesting an investment in social media and the content it slavers for

Yet survey after survey, and even consultations when done properly, demonstrate that most people are pretty normal and most normal people think fairly logically when presented with a conundrum and common sense options.

Most people recycle a reasonable amount of their rubbish without too much persuasion because it makes sense, it is fairly easy for most of them to do and a habit has formed. Job done – to a point.

There have been two interesting recent developments. The first is the power of social media and the significant shift from traditional sources of ‘news’ and, allied to this, the staying power and reach of rich, accessible and engaging content. This element has been growing for a while, driven by the proliferation of smartphones, and is now a significant factor in campaigns to do with behaviour and cultural change. If it isn’t ‘right’ for your organisation, it should be.

At a time when budgets are constrained, it might seem daft to be suggesting an investment in social media and the content it slavers for. But this is one area where more really can be achieved with less: it is about having the right skills and focus, plus an IT department and policy that allows it.

The second development is the focus that businesses have placed on prioritising environmental investments. Energy, clean-tech and resource security all feature: for example, Google, Facebook and Apple’s commitments to source 100% renewable energy. While there has been a great deal of rhetoric around COP21 and the Paris Agreement on climate change, there has also been a huge amount of action and, at last, a focus on science-based targets rather than nominal aspirational agreements.

The examples detailed here explore some of the creative communications resulting from these developments. I hope you enjoy reading it. Tweet me or drop me a line with your views – contact details at the end.

The rise of social media

The proliferation of mobile devices and an increase in the speed and availability of data has brought forward significant changes to the way we discover, shop, learn and communicate with each other, nowhere more so than in the UK.

Last year, researcher Gartner reported that well in excess of 300 million smartphones were sold each quarter – that’s more than 1.2 billion worldwide. In the UK, nearly half of e-commerce sales are from mobile devices and more than a quarter are using mobile payment. Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2015 noted that the move to 4G has increased substantially the use of mobile services being used, with shopping, banking, viewing and sharing all 15-20% up compared with 3G users.

James Thickett, Ofcom director of research, said: “4G has supercharged our smartphones, helping people to do everything from the weekly shop to catching up with friends with a face-to-face video call. For the first time, smartphones have overtaken laptops as the UK’s most popular internet device and are now the hub of our daily lives.”

Half of our young people aged 18-24 check their phones within five minutes of waking up.

The critical part of a campaign is, of course, capturing the imagination and generating an action

Why is this important to MRW’s readers? Well, if you’re not targeting mobile users and not pushing engaging social media as part of your communications or sales and marketing strategy, you are missing out on a whole bunch of people. In commerce, you are missing out on sales and being outcompeted by new entrants who do embrace it.

In services, you are missing out on efficiency savings and making it harder for your customers (or council tax payers) to find out more, reach you and even thank you.

Campaigns such as the one run by the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) to raise awareness of its proposals for the North London Heat and Power Project demonstrate the art of the possible. So too do the efforts by the likes of Viridor to engage mobile audiences with media sourced from traditional TV and radio outlets (

The critical part of a campaign is, of course, capturing the imagination and generating an action – the measurable, valuable outcome and not just the number of clicks or views.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste has generated acres of coverage for waste and resource management issues, and follows in the footsteps of #fishfight which led to a significant shift in EU policy about discards in the fishing industry. The ‘War on Waste’ campaign has achieved almost 300,000 sign-ups in support of the campaign to target supermarkets and Britain’s food industry.

The campaign says they should “make strenuous and visible efforts to redistribute all their surplus good food to those who are in need, instead of sending it to anaerobic digestion”.

Get the skills, get a mobile and go for it – social media is here to stay.

Creative content

The biggest story for me to come out of the Paris COP21 talks was not the support from China or the US, but the array of artistic, beautiful and creative content produced by campaigners, corporations, countries and communities.

The contribution this made was to boring negotiations to life, and provided depth, colour, reality and purpose. It’s more than just a group of diplomats agreeing another set of targets.

There were some brilliant infographics from the likes of WWF and Friends of Europe to help explain the what and the why.

However, some fantastic animations, films and more substantial content was also generated by people that you may have heard of and others that you hadn’t heard of before at COP21. This content was used, embedded, linked to, forwarded and shared by many hundreds of thousands of people.

Reaching younger audiences is critical to the resource management sector

The Marshall Islands contribution appears several times on YouTube from different sources and appeared on Twitter countless times. It is a great example of using traditional content that can be used across all media platforms and, of course, it is in the tried and tested human interest format.

Elon Musk, the business magnate, engineer, inventor and investor, is not the greatest of speakers, but he is certainly putting his money where his mouth is and leading from the front, which makes him a key influencer. His YouTube speech on climate change and carbon tax is just 15 minutes, so don’t be put off. Meanwhile, the WWF content is a useful call to action with accessible and friendly animation.

On the home front

In 2015, the NLWA raised the bar when it comes to reaching the parts of a community that other methods rarely manage through its use of video animation and online channels.

As the consultancy Copper noted in its report, Attitudes to Infrastructure, the group most interested in local infrastructure issues by age are 18 to 34-yearolds, yet they are typically the least engaged. This is chiefly down to being time-poor, having to commute for work, collect and care for children, busy weekends and so on, when compared with the older, time-rich generation who often attend local events such as exhibitions in support of planning applications.

Reaching younger audiences is critical to the resource management sector, whether a planning application, a recycling service change or just keeping in touch on interesting issues. The NLWA campaign demonstrated the art of the possible by reaching these younger audiences, and driving traffic not only to its animation but also to other sections of the Heat and Power Project website.

The interest from 18 to 34-year-olds was considerably higher than expected (more than 60% of total visitors). The project’s website attracted 11,000 hits over two consultation periods totalling 90 days. Almost all visitors watched at least one video, and the average time visitors spent on the homepage was the same length as the first video.

All of this is food for thought, and examples to consider when seeking to engage with communities on any key issue. Send us your favourite rich content from the web – we will report back on the best examples.

John Twitchen is a sustainability and environmental communications commentator. He is the founder of specialist communications agency env23, having left Copper Consultancy in December 2015 following the publication of its report, Attitudes to Infrastructure.

Visit or contact him by Twitter @johntwitchen or


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