A Social Marketing Campaign to Promote Sustainable Behavior at
The New School
SustainAbility Consulting Group:
Dava Antoniotti, Julie Beck,
Kristen Demaline, Agnes Peterseil & A.J. Stone
Media Advocacy & Social Marketing
The Sustainability Advisory Committee ("SAC") asked Media Advocacy & Social Marketing students
to develop a social marketing plan to achieve three primary goals:
• A reduction of both refuse and recyclable waste produced at the university as well as overall
reduction in consumption.
• Increase student awareness of the environmental and energy-related consequences of their
actions and a deeper understanding for the entire university community of the trade-offs made
in deciding to buy, use or discard products.
• Cultivate greater involvement and dedication to sustainability initiatives on the part of the
The Methodology & Preliminary Findings
Prior to developing a creative campaign, Bonnie McEwan’s Media Advocacy & Social Marketing
students conducted a collaborative landscape assessment by:
• Researching best practices for waste reduction and influencing sustainable behaviors at similar
colleges and universities throughout the United States and beyond
• Surveying a random sample of 150 New School students to discern their current behaviors and
motivations regarding waste disposal and recycling
• Interviewing David Eisenhauer, sustainability coordinator, Facilities Management
• Evaluating data from New York University to calculate proxy measures by which to establish
a baseline for The New School’s waste disposal practices and areas of potential improvement
• Contacting student organizations at The New School to ascertain scale of potential campus
buy-in to waste reduction and sustainability campaigns
The findings of the landscape assessment serve as the foundation of this social marketing campaign.
While all preliminary findings were taken into consideration in the development of the campaign,
some feature more prominently than others. Campaign decisions were made based on the desire to
create a social marketing strategy with a cohesive theme using methods with proven effectiveness in
influencing behavior. The most relevant findings are as follows:
• New School students are aware and concerned about social responsibility, even more so than
students at other universities that don't have a similar history like the New School and/or don't
market themselves as “progressive”
• A survey of New School students shows that the desire to unify personal action & beliefs is a
• Students are concerned with finances and reducing costs
• 58% of students dispose of one or more plastic bottles at the New School per week (approx.
12,000 plastic bottles per week)
• “Green” behaviors must be made simple and convenient if they are to become habit
• Social norms, or visible behaviors that are embedded in a culture, are more likely to catch on
• Written and public commitments to action increase the likelihood of that action taking place
Campaign Objectives: Bottles & Bags and Creating a Sustainable Campus Culture
SustainAbility Consulting Group created a social marketing campaign with three primary objectives.
The first two objectives involve encouraging students to engage in behaviors that reduce waste by
preventing it before it happens, or “precycling”. The third objective entails public education and
community-building to create a green campus culture in which sustainable behaviors become the norm
and students strive to be thought-leaders in sustainability. The campaign encourages students to move
away from using disposable plastic water bottles and disposable shopping bags and alternatively carry
re-usable beverage bottles and shopping bags. It is our hope to educate students, help them to visibly
modify their behavior, reduce waste and aid students in identifying with green behaviors and ideals.
Ultimately, putting these ideals into action may help to advance green behaviors and choices through
connection with and commitment to participating in the greater sustainability movement.
We believe that New School students will buy-into precycling because there is powerful evidence to
support the idea that reducing plastic bottle and plastic bag waste is of critical significance. Producing
bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water requires more than 17 million barrels of oil
annually -- enough to fuel one million US cars for one year. Plastic bags cause over 100,000 sea turtle
and other marine animal deaths every year. New School students are concerned about progressive
social issues and personal responsibility and are likely to engage in these new sustainable behaviors if
educated properly and given the tools to make the behavior convenient. There are also compelling
financial incentives for carrying reusable bags and bottles, such as bag refunds at grocery stores and
the reduced cost of tap water compared to bottled water. Students struggling with finances in New
York City should appreciate the financial motives for the switch.
The visibility of carrying and using these items within The New School community is a strategic
choice. Visible behaviors that are part of a community norm are more likely to influence the same
behavior in others – by choosing to influence visible behaviors, we hope to see community buy-in on a
larger scale. In order to make the behavior even more convenient and evident, we propose that The
New School purchase and distribute high-quality re-usable stainless steel water bottles and high-
quality canvas grocery bags – both printed with a logo designed specifically for this Greening The
New School campaign. The logo will be developed through a university-wide design contest with a
cash prize for the winning design. The design contest will layout the basic objectives of the campaign.
It will also serve as an early introduction to the initiative and prepare students to connect future
activities and programs with this larger initiative.
In order to receive a re-usable bottle and bag, students must first sign a Sustainability Pledge. This
pledge will affirm the student’s commitment to do his or her part to help create a greener, more
sustainable New School campus and community, in part by using the items that the student is about to
receive. Upon signing the pledge with one’s name and e-mail address, the student will receive the
bottle and bag free of charge. The pledge is an important piece of the campaign, hinging on the
finding that written and/or public commitments to action tend to increase engagement.
We recommend that SAC members or student leaders give a presentation on the Greening The New
School campaign at each division’s new-student orientation. The presentation should include
information on what The New School is doing to move toward a carbon neutral, zero-waste future. In
addition, the presentation will inform students about how they can help in this effort by making
sustainable choices, and the importance of participation, teamwork and innovation in reaching these
goals as a unified New School community. The presenters should direct students to a nearby table
where they can ask questions about the initiative, learn more about how to get involved, and sign the
Sustainability Pledge to receive a re-usable bottle and bag. Having a thought-leader speak to and
connect with students face-to-face is an important point, since persuasive information delivered
through personal connection tends to be more effective in changing behavior than conveyed otherwise.
It is important that all incoming students are made aware of the significance of the campaign ;
however, many students do not attend orientation. Thus, it may be necessary for SAC representatives
or student leaders to visit core or foundation classes in all divisions to give an abbreviated presentation
and solicit additional commitments to the Sustainability Pledge. These visits will give representatives
another opportunity to ask for a public commitment to sustainable behavior (i.e., “Can we see a show
of hands from those who have signed or those who will sign the Pledge?”).
The e-mail addresses collected along with student signatures on the Sustainability Pledge can be used
to provide tips and information about green living, remind and reinforce the commitment students
have made to behavior change, and announce exciting events to promote community-building around
sustainable living. These events should occur throughout the year, and play a vital role in creating a
green culture at The New School. The events may include films, guest speakers, discussion panels or
how-to sessions on a variety of green topics and issues, and should be designed to attract the widest
possible New School audience. The tone of the events should be gauged to respectfully presenting
introductory, ground-level information and discussion of sustainability, thereby feeling welcome to
buy-in from all students regardless of their level of prior knowledge. The events should be billed as
New School events, not as that of a specific division (or with the sponsoring division rotating with
each new event) and should include a wide variety of topics to attract new attendees at each event.
Possible topics/presentations may include eco-art that makes a statement or uses recycled materials,
waste and the future of organic pick-up policy in NYC, and apartment composting or other urban
green living tutorials. These events should be made fun, visible and enticing by offering food, drinks,
raffles and entertainment. Each event should be designed to draw more students into the initiative,
provide educational information about environmental impact, empower students to make a difference
and build a green culture, and encourage more commitments to participate by signing the
In order to be able to measure the success of the campaign, we propose setting the goals of a 30%
reduction in refuse and recycling collected on campus by May 2012 and a 2% annual growth in the
number of students signing the Sustainability Pledge, which equals a goal of an overall increase of
10% by 2017.
In order to promote the campaign, a number of elements in addition to in-person outreach should be
utilized. A university-wide poster campaign should be used to make students stop and think about
their behaviors and sustainability. The posters should pose questions that give one pause, and provide
little immediate information besides the URL for the new green initiatives website (designed by the
Praxis group). An example question might be: Americans use close to 1 billion plastic shopping bags
each year. How many of those are yours?
In addition to promoting the campaign and student events on the campaign website, New School
representatives should use Web 2.0 tools such as Facebook and Twitter to provide green information,
tips and encouragement to students. Partnering with student groups can also be a vehicle for outreach,
while providing additional human support in the form of volunteers to host and facilitate events and
perform visits to core classes.
A possible timeline for the roll-out of this campaign is as follows:
• Early Fall 2010
o Hold a university-wide design competition to create the campaign logo.
o Prepare for a soft-launch of the campaign by bringing together stakeholders and
thought-leaders to generate ideas for student engagement activities, poster slogans and
Web 2.0 approaches
• December 2010
o Choose the winning logo and order re-usable bottles and bags
• Spring 2011
o Soft-launch the campaign by presenting to smaller numbers of new students
beginning in January
o Debut the Sustainability Pledge and begin soliciting written commitments from
o Host student engagement nights monthly throughout the semester
o Use multi-media advertising to promote the campaign
• May 2010
o Gather student and faculty feedback on the campaign and plan any necessary
adjustments for the Fall launch
• Fall 2011
o Formal launch of the campaign for all incoming students at orientation.
The budget for the campaign is based on 1,500 students participating through December of 2011. We
recommend the purchase of high-quality re-usable bottles and canvas grocery-size bags. Stainless
steel water bottles can be purchased in bulk for approximately $4.50 per bottle. Canvas grocery bags
can be purchased for $4.00 each. If 1,500 are purchased, the total for would be $6,750 for bottles and
$6,000 for bags. If a reduction in cost is necessary, BPA-free plastic bottles may be purchased for
$2.50 each, and smaller cotton tote bags for $3.20 each. With a logo design contest cash prize of
$500, and $100 per student engagement event for food, drinks and prizes, the combined budget
through December of 2011 would be between $9,950 and $14,150.
Our comprehensive campaign will aid in the creation of a “green” culture at The New School through
environmental education, student engagement, personal connections with thought-leaders and the
promotion of visible acts of precycling. We anticipate a future in which sustainable behavior is the
norm for all students and faculty at The New School and students from all divisions feel unified
through the drive to create and maintain a sustainable campus community for all.