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How to Successfully Engage Consumers Around Water Sustainability

A Wednesday afternoon session at SB ’15 San Diego explored compelling case studies on designing and implementing consumer-facing water campaigns. Representatives from Waste Management, Stella Artois and Water.org, the National Hockey League, and WhiteWave Foods described their efforts to engage consumers in their water conservation initiatives and offered tips on creating effective partnerships with NGOs.

Lee Spivak, Senior Associate of Sustainability Services at Waste Management (WM), described his company’s efforts to reduce water at the Phoenix Open, an annual golf tournament that engages roughly 600,000 attendees. Spivak described several measures during the event that increased awareness of WM’s water goals, including compost and recycling stations, event signage and volunteers to educate attendees about company goals, zero-waste stations, an aggressive social media campaign, and evening events focused on waste-management awareness. In 2014, WM achieved 100 percent diversion of waste from landfills and purchased water restoration certificates for all metered fresh water used at the event.

This year, WM joined the Change the Course campaign, a freshwater restoration initiative focused on the Colorado River. For every individual pledge made to the campaign, Change the Course funds restoration projects to restore 1,000 gallons of water to the iconic river. Spivak said WM’s partnership with Change the Course help raise the profile of this work. Several national brands are now interested in addressing their water footprint with Change the Course as a way to engage stakeholders in a fun and meaningful way.

“You can do this!” Spivak told attendees. Creating bold water campaigns that engage consumers is “not that complicated … but it definitely takes time and resources,” he said.

A marketing video featuring Water.org co-founder Matt Damon introduced the campaign, and outlined the immense obstacles facing women in water-scarce regions. “Around the world women spend 200 million hours a day collecting water. … What if we could give them that time back, so they could start journeys of their own?” he provokes.

Butler and LaGuardia described the reasons for their partnership. “Out of all the causes, why water?” asked Butler. “It’s very close to home — it’s the key ingredient in our product. Secondly, we have breweries all around the world and those breweries have community around them. It’s important that we’re looking out for them.” He said the company chose specifically to work with Water.org because of its market-driven approach to water conservation, the organization’s adaptability, and its experience in telling compelling stories about water use.

For Water.org, LaGuardia said the Stella brand offered a compelling platform for the organization. “As much as we all love a frosty Stella, it wasn’t about the beer — it was about the brand,” she said.

Stella’s “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign spoke directly to the aim of the partnership (providing access to water for women) and also fit with Stella’s brand positioning as a sophisticated gentleman’s beer. To promote the campaign, Stella issued custom-designed chalices featuring local artists in the impacted countries, promoted the campaign within bars, and created videos with Water.org to document personal stories of women helped by the partnership. Butler also mentioned the company’s use of Instagram, a Twitter campaign, and a custom platform on Tumblr to bring relatable stories of women and water use to life.

“It’s important to put a human face on astounding facts and figures that we hear every day,” Laguardia said of the documentary-style videos. She also noted that the marketing campaign continued well beyond its launch, and that ongoing advertising at high-profile events was critical to its success. For example, Stella ran a 30-second ad during the Oscars, which garnered 10,000 campaign-site visits and 4,500 purchased chalices within 24 hours. To date, 73,000 custom chalices supporting the campaign have been sold since it launched in March.

“Our sport is born on frozen ponds where players learn to play. … [Ice hockey] is directly impacted by climate change and fresh water scarcity,” Omar Mitchell, Public Affairs and Sustainability at the NHL, said in his introduction.

Mitchell described emerging efforts by the NHL to engage its clubs in sustainability efforts and motivate fans to participate. Authenticity, he said, is key to their success. “We can tell this story in an authentic way. We can tie environmental sustainability to the root of the sport, and it gives us the ability to talk about environmental sustainability in a way that other sports might not be able to do. Water is in the DNA of ice hockey,” he said.

Each ice rink takes 12,000 to 15,000 gallons to make, Mitchell explained, but the largest use of water is the cooling towers that keep the stadiums cool, and the restaurants and concessionaires serving them. Mitchell explained the NHL is pursuing a three-pronged approach to saving water, including: 1) Spreading awareness of individual teams’ water conservation accomplishments; 2) Engaging fans in calls to action, including making pledges to conserve water in partnership with Change the Course; 3) Engaging the local community in efforts related to water stewardship.

Mitchell highlighted the importance of engaging fans on social media platforms, and said the NHL plans to continue to reach out to its 12 million followers on environmental issues.

He also described efforts by individual club teams, such as the Anaheim Ducks’ “Green Night,” an event to educate fans on sustainability issues and enable them to share their knowledge with friends on social platforms. In the next phase of its work, Mitchell said the NHL plans to have its clubs compete with each other on sustainability performance.

Closing out the session was Deanna Bratter of WhiteWave Foods, who spoke about the necessity of water to the company’s business. “It’s a core material focus and risk to our sustainability,” she said of the company, whose notable brands include Silk, Horizon and Land O Lakes. WhiteWave has a goal to reduce water use 15 percent by 2020 through conservation, restoration and protection efforts.

WhiteWave was the first brand to partner with Change the Course to balance its water use, and to date has facilitated over 125,000 pledges to water conservation and saved 3 billion gallons of water. Bratter spoke about the personal connection individuals have with water, encouraging members of the audience to tap into this passion.

“There is a strong level of emotion tied to water,” she said, “And compassion, empowerment and energy are the threads that connects all of what we do.”

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