Lighten Up

This one was just plain fun!

We needed a celebrity to spearhead an electricity conservation campaign, and a friend introduced me to Colin Mochrie, Canada’s improv genius and a wonderful, giving person who was able to run with just about every idea we threw at him.

We called our campaign “Lighten Up”. The idea was to make conservation fun, and to get people to start saving energy by turning down the A/C, switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, or taking a pledge to use less.

I wrote a number of 30 second radio clips, and we headed into the studio. Here are some samples:

New Year’s Pledge

Save the Arctic

Save the Bulbs

Move to Australia

The Beer Store chipped in with a version of the poster for their 450 retail stores, and a takeaway booklet at the counter.

Like the Doors Closed campaign, Lighten Up was designed to be adaptable for use by municipalities and local groups. A website was also developed, where people could track their pledges.

The campaign ran at a time when there were numerous other conservation advertising campaigns and several other pledge websites. In the end, it did not gain the traction we were looking for, but it did raise the organization’s profile and help promote the conservation cause. And, yes, it was fun.

We Conserve

If there was one thing I loved about working at the Conservation Council of Ontario, it was the ability to think big. We were a 50+ year old council made up of senior non-governmental organizations across Ontario. It was our job to push the envelope of voluntary action – to be radically pragmatic.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity for change came after the big blackout of August 14th, 2003. The entire province was without electricity for several days, and all of a sudden the word “conservation” was on every politician’s lips.

Two years later, with a strong conservation mandate, the Ontario government launched an “Ontario Conserves” initiative. We responded with our own campaign: “We Conserve”. The message was that we had to “think like a movement” – that conservation was everyone’s responsibility, and that Ontario’s voluntary sector was part of the solution.

And what fun we had. We started with a simple campaign, “Doors Closed,” which provided community groups with posters and literature to canvas local stores and ask them to close the door when running air conditioning.

We held an annual Conservation Summit to track Ontario’s progress and to report on Ontario’s conservation trends. Had we been able to continue, we would have built up a valuable record of the change in conserver values over time.

Alas, the government’s interest in conservation waned, to be replaced by the rising concern over climate change. Although conservation remains vital as a climate solution, the interest in branding and marketing conservation died out.

The last major contribution of the We Conserve campaign was a provincial voluntary transition strategy in 2011, “We Conserve: Ontario’s Conservation Strategy.”

The strategy laid out a roadmap for collaboration and voluntary leadership. It still stands as an example of what could actually be accomplished if we all worked together.

If there is one overriding lesson, it is that we need to find ways to resurrect the leadership role of the voluntary sector in charting the path to a sustainable , climate -friendly future.


Doors Closed

So here’s the situation. It’s 2005, and energy conservation is the top environmental issue. The big blackout in 2003 was the crisis that helped bring in a new provincial government with the promise action on conservation and renewable power.

In response to the Province’s “Ontario Conserves” campaign, we at the Conservation Council of Ontario (CCO) had launched a mirror campaign, “We Conserve” to promote voluntary leadership. We needed a quick win – a campaign to tackle a hot-button issue and win support for conservation. We found it in air-conditioned sidewalks. In the heat of the summer, retailers were running air conditioning with wide open front doors to entice customers into their super-cooled stores. The public response was visceral – “Why should I have to conserve energy at home when stores are blasting out air-conditioning onto the sidewalks?!”

The easy approach would have been to organize a boycott, or call for provincial regulation or city by-laws. But we saw the potential for a win-win situation by promoting stores that did the right thing.

We designed a simple poster that could be printed in small batches to include local distribution partners and sponsors, and put out the call for community groups and volunteers to help distribute posters. In particular, we asked for
help for a one-week blitz leading up to the second anniversary of the blackout on August 14, 2005. The response was amazing: over 5,000 posters were distributed by 24 organizations in 15 communities.  Here’s the full 2005 final report.

The campaign peaked in 2006 (campaign report) and continued for five years before being retired. It was a tremendous success, in terms of building partnerships, developing a culture of conservation, and in curtailing a wasteful practice. The campaign was adapted in the United Kingdom, and at least one utility, Toronto Hydro, has integrated the message into its conservation marketing with a window cling for stores:

We estimated that the campaign helped save up to 2 MW of power, which is a drop in the bucket of the 18,000 MW of power used across the province, which means the true value of the campaign was in its contributions to building a conserver ethic – a cultural foundation for ongoing and deeper action.

Where next? One of our goals for Doors Closed was to use the single issue as a stepping stone to develop a more comprehensive approach to promoting business leadership. You’ll find many of the ideas in the Doors Closed campaign have been incorporated into the Climate Leaders campaign for Climate Action Canada – including movement-based marketing and voluntary leadership.


The Arrow

How can we describe a complex social movement for a better future? The solution: a simple icon.

In 2007, ecologist Paul Hawken wrote “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw It Coming.” In it, he describes how the actions of people all across the world are all connected within a common commitment to creating a better world. The book spawned a website, (now defunct) which attempted to connect all organizations around the world through a single website platform.

Hawken’s work helped me understand the combined strength of social movements, and the importance of linking various causes together, be it through identifying co-benefits or through a deeper common cause.

One of the challenges of building a united movement is to find a way to convey the common cause and commitment that lies at the heart of so many issues and solutions. How, for example, can you connect the work of a community group in Udaipur, India with the local green group in Parkdale, Toronto, both of which are actively running projects for local food and community economic development? Or how can you connect the work of dozens of organizations within each urban neighourhood?

Where words fail, or become too complex, a simple image will do the job. We all know the recycling logo, which has become one of the best known environmental icons worldwide, but is limited to a single issue. My solution was to design a similar icon that would reflect the common commitment to a better future and the ability to turn problems and downward trends into positive solutions.

In my position as Executive Director of the Conservation Council of Ontario, I contacted a graphic designer, Gil Martinez of Big Guy Studio. This is what Gil came up with, and it has been registered under a Creative Commons license as a free image to be adapted and adopted freely:

You can find more information and download artwork at the Canada Conserves site. These are some of the adaptations I have used in my own work:

Live Green Card

The City of Toronto needed a way to connect green consumers and businesses. The solution: a green discount card.

While working with the City of Toronto’s Live Green program as a community animation manager, I was introduced to a couple of young entrepreneurs with an idea for a green points card. We adapted their idea to provide residents with a green discount card that would also support local businesses that offer green products and services.

The Live Green Card now has over 500 participating businesses.