City of Los Angeles – Rainwater Harvesting Program
The City of Los Angeles’ Watershed Protection Program (formerly known as the LA Stormwater Program) wanted to create a community outreach program that employed a multi-pronged approach, utilizing public education and awareness, to capture stormwater and turn it into an asset.
SGA has more than 16 years of experience representing the City of Los Angeles through a wide range of community outreach programs. During this time, SGA has reached more than four million residents in both English and Spanish while developing a range of award winning programs. This partnership has focused on various community outreach tactics that have highlighted the current prevailing environmental topics to maximize engagement and awareness.
SGA helped the City of Los Angeles launch a pilot Rainwater Harvesting Program in the Ballona Creek Watershed that sought to transform stormwater into an asset. Stormwater has been traditionally considered a liability (i.e. polluted runoff leading to waterways) but this program encouraged residents to install rain barrels and businesses to get retrofitted with biofiltration planter boxes to turn stormwater into a resource (i.e. captured rainwater used for irrigation). Citizens and business owners voluntarily came together to make valuable use of rainwater. SGA used a multi-pronged community outreach approach. The various methods utilized include:
- Community Engagement: SGA approached and enlisted several environmental organizations, city council members and neighborhood activists from the pilot communities to participate as “early adopters” (people who set the normative behavior to harvest rainwater), working in tandem with them to create initial program engagement.
- Media Outreach: SGA encouraged these social norms by publicizing the involvement of such influential peers and leaders through regional media features and local blogs. The early adopter residents were able to synthesize program messages in a real, personal and friendly manner during press interviews.
- Communal Approach: By sharing stories beyond a top-down informational approach, SGA sought instead to emphasize a very human, small-town feel, creating opportunities to hear opinions from the residents themselves (25% of program sign-ups heard about the program through a friend, relative or neighbor).
- Consistent Branding: The coordinated branding of all of the program’s materials, website and social media platforms was another integral part of ensuring that the program’s outreach “face” was recognizable and consistent.
- Creative Design: SGA helped develop fresh, creative pieces that served as driving forces to encourage participation among City residents and businesses. The outreach pieces included a custom website, tri-fold brochures explaining the benefits of enrollment, program applications, labels for the rain barrels, electronic e-mail blasts, lawn signs and Facebook fan page updates.
- New Media Outreach: Using targeted blogs as part of the media relations strategy to recruit sign-ups, SGA facilitated credible dialogue about the pilot by identifying and connecting with influencers. A feature the program placed in The Los Angeles Times also led to more online commentary and story sharing.
- Accessible Messaging: For program messaging, SGA took a technical pilot program, formerly referred to as the Downspout Disconnect Program, and made it accessible and community-focused. All of the program’s materials avoided technical jargon, acronyms and other equally convoluted messaging, and targeted why homeowners should sign up to receive a rain barrel installation. The program name was re-branded as the “LA Rainwater Harvesting Program” and all materials were created with the end goal of being inviting to residents.
- Financial Incentive: The installation and equipment costs for this project are worth up to $250, but they were provided free to pilot participants.
These unique approaches effectively created momentum for the program and gained the collective buy-in of residents and businesses to become part of the solution in transforming rainwater from urban runoff to a natural commodity.
The results of the pilot program were a phenomenal success. The program was 500% oversubscribed because of the outreach. The City did not anticipate receiving as many requests that they did (3000 applications for 600 rain barrels).
Due to the amazing response, the City sought additional funding to apply the program citywide. After implementation of the program, SGA surveyed residents and found that program participants showed a significant willingness to adopt more on-site sustainable water practices such as rain gardens and installing additional rain barrels and that they would recommend this program to their neighbors.