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Promoting Sustainable Behavior Change

“Community-based social marketing draws heavily on research in social psychology, which indicates that initiatives to promote behavior change are often most effective when they are carried out at the community level and involve direct contact with people.” (from Fostering Sustainable  Behavior Change by Doug McKenzie-Mohr)


Credit: The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk

For better or worse, everyday habits can impact our environment, including Long Island Sound. The message, “What Goes on the Ground; Goes in the Sound” is a reminder that what we deposit or throw away can end up in storm drains, rivers, the groundwater, and ultimately the Sound. Since it is not always easy to change habits, the Long Island Sound Futures Fund has awarded grants to organizations and municipalities who promote behavior change with projects that involve direct contact with the public to build community support.

Below are examples of some of the projects funded over the past 15 years in the Large Grant (education) and Small Grant categories of the Futures Fund. At the end of each description is a link to the grantee’s final report, which is posted in  the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s grants archive.

Keeping the Sound Healthy, Stormwater Social Marketing (2013)

Recipient: Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk
Grant Amount (EPA): $34,929
Recipient Match: $35,268
Total Project Funding:$70,197
Project Area: Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk

The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk will use two manned interactive exhibits on the floor of the aquarium floor titled: Water Quality Station and Floatable Debris Station to present information and provide educational experiences to 125,000 visitors. This project, “Keeping the Sound Healthy,” uses a community-based social marketing campaign to encourage adoption of activities that protect water quality. The focus of the exhibits will be on different activities which may be changed or adopted by individuals including: reuse and recycling; car washing and lawn care.  Each exhibit will provide an activity that a visitor can engage in while at the station. Throughout the day at both exhibits, visitors will be asked to pledge to adopt a new behavior. Using an IPad, a picture will be taken of families who have written their pledge on a portable chalk board. With family’s permission, images will then be loaded into a slide show that will show on a monitor as a permanent part of the exhibit. Staff also will also conduct follow-up surveys with visitors to evaluate the impact of the project and commitment to the pledge. Each station will be manned by two educators who will interact with the public on key messages, organize the activities at each station, obtain pledges, take photos, and obtain information for evaluation purposes. Twenty volunteers and interns will prepare materials for the floatables debris station. The project aims to encourage activity changes in 75,000 citizens.

Link to final report.

Organic Lawn Care Certificate Program (2013)

Recipient: Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut
Grant Amount (EPA): $25,724.46
Recipient Match: $26,413
Total Project Funding: $52,137.46
Project Area: Waterbury and a second location in CT

Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut will provide two certificate courses about alternative, non-chemical lawn care aimed at reducing fertilizer pollutants into Long Island Sound to 59 lawn care providers offering each student technical support for six months. The course is designed for small lawn care technicians, small business owners, sole proprietors and municipal workers who maintain lawns and landscapes. The project has two goals: 1) provide an affordable, accessible, short course which offers a marketable credential — the NOFA Organic Lawn Care Certificate — upon course completion; 2) conduct a survey of participants to identify both the barriers and catalysts to adoption of alternative, non-chemical lawn care practices; 3) use survey results to improve the future effectiveness of the course and guide course; and 4) engage in community marketing strategies with a website, twitter, a blog, Facebook page and Linked-In group, as well as dissemination via signs/door hangers with the “Organic Lawns and Gardens Keep our Water Clean” brand to clients.

Link to final report.

Engaging Sweet Corn and Potato Farmers: N-Fertilizer Management (2013)

Recipient: Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Suffolk County
Grant Amount (EPA): $100,000
Recipient Match: $100,000
Total Project Funding: $200,000
Project Area: Riverhead and Southold

Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Suffolk County will work with sweet corn and potato farmers to increase application of controlled release nitrogen fertilizer (CRNF) to reduce the amount of nitrogen pollution into the ground and surface waters of Long Island Sound.  The project aims to:1) reduce the annual application of nitrogen fertilizer by an average of 2,496 pounds without adversely affecting crop yield and/or quality; 2) conduct the sweet corn and potato Best Management Practice (economic risk reduction) Challenge; 3) add six new farmers, increasing the number of participating farmers  to 22 out of 35 growers and reduce their annual nitrogen application to sweet corn by an average of 31 pounds/acre; 4) engage up to 20 potato farmers in side-by-side demonstration projects to improve their nitrogen use efficiency and reduce annual application of nitrogen application by 33-lbs/acre; 5) observe a 50 percent  increase in sweet corn farmers (17 of 35 farmers) independently purchasing CRNF for use on their entire/or major portion of crop; and 6) observe a 12 percent  increase in number of potato farmers (3 of 25 farmers) that independently purchase CRNF for use on their entire/or major portion of crop.

Link to final report.

Conserving Coastal Birds through Stewardship and Outreach (2013)

Recipient: National Audubon Society
Grant Amount (EPA, FWS): $69,744.01
Recipient Match:$62,286.32
Total Project Funding: $132,030.33
Project Area: Centre Island Town Beach, Bayville,  Stehli Beach, Lattingtown,  Oyster Bay, & Pelham Bay, NY; Barn Island, Sandy Point, Bluff Point, Sandy/Morse Point, West Haven, Silver Sands/Charles Island, Milford Point, Long and Pleasure Beaches, CT

National Audubon Society education and science staff will train 135 people to steward beach nesting bird sites, monitor fenced areas and serve as beach docents during busy beach-use days. Trained stewards will lead bird walks to allow people to experience the beauty of the birds first- hand. The project will also provide a multi-session Audubon education program that teaches students in 30 classrooms about priority birds and habitats in Bridgeport and Greenwich, CT and Westbury, Hempstead, and Roosevelt, NY schools. The lessons culminate with students designing signs for bird nesting areas some of which will be installed to alert beach-goers of nesting areas and to reduce disturbance to birds.  Signs will provide a Quick Response Code that can be scanned on a cell phone, allows visitors to access the “Be a Good Egg” website and then requests that they take a pledge to reduce threats to these birds and sign electronically.  Two-hundred beachgoers will be asked to take the “Be a Good Egg” pledge. Ultimately, the project will protect 130 acres of beach-nesting bird habitat at 9 sites supporting 55 breeding pairs of piping plovers and  about 425 pairs of least terns.  It aims to improve 11 beach-nesting bird sites through education and outreach by decreasing human disturbance; and to educate 10,000 people about sharing the shore with coastal waterbirds.  Piping plover nesting and hatching success is projected to increase from 1.21 to 1.5; and least t ern from 0.23 to 0.5. These birds are threatened native species facing loss or degradation of their nesting areas because of human disturbance due to conflicts with recreational uses and predators, and sea level rise among other factors. The project will post monthly blogs and prepare Facebook posts three times a month. The blogs and posts will be linked with “Be a Good Egg” outreach.

BYOB- Bring Your Own Bag (2011)

Recipient:  Citizens Campaign for the Environment
LISFF Award: $25,000.40 (EPA)
Matching Funds: $30,000
Total Project Costs: $55,000.40
Project Area: Northport and Port Jefferson

Citizens Campaign for the Environment will implement a pilot campaign to reduce plastic pollution into waterways to encourage 500 residents to use reusable bags instead of throw-a-way disposable plastic bags in two communities within Long Island Sound Watershed  The project will producing a short video public service announcement, distributing 2,500 brochures in targeted areas, working with local businesses to ensure “prompts” are displayed in local shops, and encouraging residents to pledge to stop using plastic bags.

Curbing Invasion Pathways through AIS Awareness  (2010)

Recipient: University of Connecticut, Connecticut Sea Grant
LISFF Award: $33,123 (EPA)
Matching Funds: $11,974
Total Project Costs: $65,097
Project Area: Boat access points and marinas primarily in Connecticut and on the  North Shore of Long Island

The University of Connecticut, Connecticut Sea Grant will create and implement a social marketing campaign to educate marine boaters and anglers about aquatic invasives and to change behavior to minimize their potential role in causing new introductions.

Many boaters and anglers are unaware of the problems associated with invasive species in Long Island Sound and the pathways for introductions of those species from recreational boating and fishing.  The project will apply techniques used by commercial marketers, termed “social marketing.” Rather than dictating the way that information is to be conveyed from the top-down, educators listen to the needs and desires of the target audience themselves, and build a program from there.  Like commercial marketing, the primary focus is on the consumer–on learning what boaters and anglers want and need rather than trying to persuade them about environmental goals. The project aims to reduce new invasions by engaging these communities to properly dispose of bait and bait packing materials and changing hull maintenance practices to minimize transfer of invasive species.  Bait retailers will also be contacted to encourage them to put “Don’t Dump Bait” labels on purchases of live bait for marine use at point-of-sale.

Link to final report.

Social Marketing Campaign: Beach-Nesting Birds, Long Island North Shore (2009)

Recipient: National Audubon Society, Inc. (NY Audubon)
Federal Funds (EPA, FWS): $13,750
NFWF Non-Federal Funds: $13,000
Matching Funds: $15,329
Total Project Costs: $42,079
Project Area: Coastal areas on the North Shore of Long Island, New York

Audubon New York will conduct a social marketing campaign to change public perceptions and behaviors that contribute to identified threats to beach-nesting birds around Long Island’s North Shore.

Many of the threats to beach-nesting birds on Long Island are directly related to human activities on beaches. While management activities are in place to address some of these threats, public cooperation is still a challenge. This project will address this challenge by moving beyond traditional education and outreach to use social marketing – a creative approach to catalyzing social change. The social marketing campaign aims to change public perceptions and behaviors that contribute to identified threats on and around Long Island’s North Shore. Successful project action/outcomes will include increased support among target audiences for beach-nesting bird conservation actions, target audience(s) taking desired steps and actions, and increased beach-nesting bird productivity and/or survival.

Social marketing is a goal-oriented approach to change that should not be confused with traditional education and outreach. Social marketing does not place priority on the dissemination of information—rather, it involves targeting a specific sector of the population with the goal of changing a particular behavioral pattern in that community. Methods for changing behavior may include actions such as identifying influential members of the community and giving them incentives to model a new behavior, an ad campaign eliciting a positive or negative emotional response to a behavior, or providing easily available technical support that facilitates a desired behavior.

Link to final report.

Septic System Management Education Campaign (2009)

Recipient: Town of Westport-Septic Maintenance Committee-Conservation Department
Federal Funds (EPA): $6,000
Matching Funds: $0
Total Project Costs: $6,000
Project Area: Westport, Connecticut

The Town of Westport will conduct a community-wide educational campaign to change homeowner behavior regarding responsible septic system maintenance and management.

The project will implement a multi-media educational campaign designed to motivate consumer behavior change resulting in regular system pumping, more responsible use and better water quality. The campaign will involve such tools as: an educational brochure, public service announcements, articles in local media, and a website. Seeking a lighter touch to motivate changes in consumer behavior, a number of more novel communication vehicles will be pursued. Local high school students will create a scale model of the septic system/groundwater “cycle of life” to illustrate the impact of system management, from “toilet flush to groundwater flow.” A much larger version of this model system will be created as a float to appear in the annual Memorial Day Parade. Creation of a “Mock-U-Drama” video of septic systems and their environmental impact will also be an objective, again using local students to star and produce.

Link to final report




Learn More

  • Environmental psychologist Doug McKenzie-Mohr describes how to develop a Community-Based Social Marketing campaign in a book  available on-line on his website.
  • NSMC, formerly the National Marketing Social Center, is a British Community Interest Company that provides resources on developing social marketing campaigns at its website.
  • Here is an example of a behavior change project from the Chesapeake Bay region.


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