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Waste Not
Reimagining Phoenix:
A Citywide Campaign to Turn Trash Into Resources

Imagine a future where there is no such thing as trash — there are only resources. Where residents of a large metropolitan region routinely reduce, reuse, recycle and reconsider their consumption patterns by imagining the opportunities that come from making wiser choices. Achieving that ambition may be a long way off, but if the City of Phoenix has anything to do with it, that future begins now — with a multi-pronged citywide strategy based on forming unique private-public partnerships and cross-sector collaboration.

My agency, Citizen Group, began working with the City of Phoenix to develop the communications framework for the campaign we’ve now branded as “Reimagine Phoenix” roughly a year ago. It started shortly after Mayor Greg Stanton announced his commitment to making sustainability a cornerstone of his tenure by throwing down a “40x20” goal — to educate, inspire, and engage residents in the region to increase their waste diversion to 40 percent (up from the current 18 percent) by the year 2020.

Why this, and why now? With a population of four million people, the Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale area is the 10th-fastest-growing metropolitan area in the US, adding approximately 150 new residents every day. As such, the quality of life most of us take for granted is at risk if local residents don’t begin to adopt ways to lessen their shared impact — especially in a region seeing its own set of amplified environmental challenges such as rising temperatures and decreasing water supply.

Under the direction of John Trujillo, the City’s Assistant Public Works Director, the Phoenix Public Works Department created a comprehensive Waste Diversion Action Plan. “In order for the plan to be successful,” says Trujillo, “we have to both identify and execute near-term opportunities for waste diversion and aversion that will lead to a reduction in waste sent to landfills, while saving money for the city and its citizens.”

In order to implement this enlightened vision, Citizen worked with the City to define a set of guiding principles to shape the “Reimagine Phoenix” program, a few of which are summarized below:

1) Promote Shared Values

In order to create a citywide shift in behavior, it’s clear we need to reach beyond the choir and engage all residents not only in what’s at stake, but what’s to gain — that is, the self-esteem and savings that comes from making healthier, wealthier, wiser decisions. While America at large appears as polarized as ever, finding this common ground locally may be easier than we think when we root back to shared values and traditions.

47 percent of Phoenix residents are Caucasian and 41 percent are Hispanic; nearly one-third speak Spanish at home. As Roberto Yanez, VP & GM of Univision Arizona recently reminded attendees at the Go Green Phoenix conference, values such as thriftiness, reusing and not wasting have a long history in the Hispanic tradition, as well as in the Native American tradition of the American Southwest. These are, in fact, American values. As we launch "Reimagine Phoenix," our aim is to act on that observation while at the same time addressing the sustainability movement’s crucial need for diversity.

2) Develop Powerful Partnerships

Engaging corporate, cultural and civic leaders will play a central role in this effort’s success. The City of Phoenix has been doing an excellent job cultivating powerful partnerships starting with Arizona State University, a global sustainability leader focusing on the nexus of energy, water, population and waste. Together ASU and the City have formed a venture called the Center for Resource Intelligence which, in addition to being an R&D facility, is becoming a hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship by addressing the efficient and restorative use of natural resources.

In addition, local partnerships with Basha’s Supermarkets, Petsmart, Univision and The Mayo Clinic, as well as major sports teams including the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Diamondbacks and Arizona Cardinals, promise to help take the message public and add cultural currency to the effort by using use all forms of media — retail, point-of-sale, broadcast, events, PR, social, digital, out-of-home, etc — to inspire and engage local residents.

3) Inspire Co-Creation

Whatever Phoenix’s future becomes, it will be a co-creation of all the region’s stakeholders — residents, politicians, business leaders, etc. And it will be shaped as much by inspiration as by mandate or regulation. “Reimagine Phoenix” is intended to lay out a broad narrative and framework for action that all stakeholders can help to fill in and make a shared reality. The real momentum will come when partners like the ones mentioned above use their creativity to find the valuable intersections with their own programs. The Diamondbacks, for example, are already using the “Reimagine Phoenix” platform to host their first Zero Waste Spring Training event this March, encouraging other MLB teams that train in the Phoenix region to join them.

Let’s always remember that “imagining” is one of humankind’s most powerful acts. It has the power to make prophesies self-fullfilling. This particular prophesy is just taking shape.


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