Are Hampton Roads residents more knowledgeable of local environmental issues than they were two years ago? Do they know where to turn for information they seek about recycling, efficient water use and tips for making local living easy on the environment? The answers are yes and yes, according to a fall 2012 study conducted for askHRgreen.org, a regional environmental education and outreach campaign administered through the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.
“The 2012 study showed that we are successfully changing behaviors and that the askHRgreen.org campaign is helping localities to effectively and efficiently meet their state regulatory requirements for improving the health of local waterways, recycling rates, awareness of water resources issues and sanitary sewer overflow prevention,” said Julia B. Hillegass, public information and community affairs administrator for the HRPDC and askHRgreen.org team leader. “That’s good news, but there is still work to be done.”
To consolidate multiple green outreach programs of the HRPDC, and guided by the findings of a fall 2010 online benchmark survey to gauge the region’s environmental literacy, askHRgreen.org was launched in early 2011.
Last fall, EAB Research conducted a second online survey to see how the campaign was performing. Four-hundred residents of the region’s 16 cities and counties participated in the study.
Overall, the 2012 survey revealed that the askHRgreen.org campaign has proven effective in educating and modifying the behavior of its target audiences. In addition, those who are aware of askHRgreen.org are more likely to seek information, have more knowledge and report positive behaviors. Highlights of the survey found that:
• 12% of those surveyed have heard about askHRgreen.org.
• Online was reported to be the largest source for awareness.
• 33% of “askHRgreen.org aware” respondents have visited the website.
• Overall self-perceived knowledge of local environmental issues has increased. The largest increases are among
o single females, under $75,000 income
o those aware of askHRgreen.org
• People aware of askHRgreen.org are the most frequent information seekers.
Since the 2010 benchmark study, there have been significant increases in the general use of and how often people are using their own shopping bags, as opposed to store-provided, bags. Pouring fats, oils and grease down the drain or in the yard decreased 12 points from the 2010 survey, and the perceived harm rose 12 points—showing improvement in both the behavior of the action and the understanding that it is harmful.
While there were improvements in certain environmental areas, the findings revealed a “disconnect” between some behaviors and the personal impact of those actions, especially with regard to the effects of over fertilizing lawns and leaving pet waste on the ground.
• 65% of those surveyed understood that over fertilizing lawns leads to excesses of nitrogen and phosphorus in area waterways. Yet, only 7% of these respondents knew that this action results in discolored and foul-smelling waterways that are not desirable for swimming and boating.
• 23% of respondents who are using fertilizer are applying it 3 or more times a year.
• 55% of the people surveyed knew that leaving pet waste on the ground leads to bacteria being carried to local waterways through the storm drain. Of this total, 62% knew this would lead to contaminated waterways. Of the 62%, only 20% knew that contaminated waterways meant you couldn’t swim at the beach or eat local seafood.
Over the next year, Hillegass and her team will be using the survey results to make adjustments to the overall campaign.
“We’ll be focusing more on showing the connection between negative environmental behaviors and the resulting consequences, in addition to driving more people to the website,” said Hillegass. “The survey showed that the more people are aware of askHRgreen.org, the more likely they are to adopt positive behaviors, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”