On Listening and Meaningful Change: Angeline Lee

(This is a part of a series of biographical pieces to introduce you to the SGA staff.)

With a warm smile and infectious laughter that lights up the office, Angeline Lee (or Angie as she is known) has the innate ability to weave kindness with impact into her work. This upcoming March, she will be celebrating her two-year anniversary with SGA as a Project Specialist on multiple projects. A University of California, San Diego graduate with a degree in Environmental Systems, Angie has developed three key lessons for implementing effective social and environmental marketing work within local communities. Take notes. With her positive presence, Angie has the keys to making a better world.

On Listening
I learned early on to never underestimate the simple power of listening. I once worked with resistant communities in the Santa Monica mountains who would hang up the phone on me as we encouraged them to comply with environmental permit regulations. So I changed tactics. I stopped talking at them. I visited them in person and began listening. I listened to what motivated their actions, what they feared about these environmental permits, and how it will affect them. Instead of speaking at the community from the voice of a government entity, I worked to foster trust and personal connection with these communities while directly addressing their concerns, which helped all of us to achieve our mutual goals.

On the Curse of Knowledge
One of my favorite projects at SGA was working on an informational signage project with the Orange County Department of Public Works. They had recently renovated their campus with ground-breaking (literally!) infrastructure improvements that saved water and reduced the amount of pollutants running into the storm drains. Our task was to create a series of beautiful signs across the site to educate visitors about the visible and non-visible developments and the environmental impact of each to encourage a dialogue between pedestrians and the built environment – which we did. To achieve this, it was important to be mindful of avoiding the curse of knowledge, which occurs when the educator unknowingly assumes that their audience has the background knowledge to understand the information presented. Therefore, we went beyond sharing theory, facts, and technical language to make the signs accessible to everyone – water expert or not.

On Meaningful Change
When working with local communities, I am most energized when I get to see change happen in person. Every year in May, over 4,000 students, teachers, and volunteers gather on the beaches of Los Angeles to clean up trash for Kids Ocean Day. Afterwards, the community gathers together to form aerial art as a united expression of protecting the health of the ocean. After months of preparation, coordination, and hard work, I love waking up on the morning of the event (is 3AM considered morning?) to be a small part of the larger community across California to make a better world for future generations. Together, we can create meaningful change.

7 Green Holiday Tips for Your Business

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” -Rumi

People may mistakenly believe that they have to make grand, life-altering changes to make a difference. This can lead to frustration and disappointment. SGA believes that true change begins with a series of small steps — little things you do everyday can make an impact. Small steps turn into daily occurrences and daily occurrences turns to change.  This concept can also be applied to businesses. That’s why this holiday season, we are sharing 7 small steps you can take to help your business become a little greener.  Start implementing these changes now to lay the foundation for a greener tomorrow.

  • Donate to your favorite environmental organization this holiday season. Choose a non-profit that is local to your community to make the most impact. Want to donate products to needy communities and other non-profits? Consider donating via good360.org.
    • Bonus: Donate in your employee’s name and bask in the feel good nature of giving.
  • Volunteer time at soup kitchen or shelter. Need more inspiration? If you’re in the Los Angeles area, there’s an annual Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count that will be held in January. SGA staff will be grouping together to make sure everyone counts regardless of where they live. Get a group of your coworkers and go together!
  • Donate leftover holiday party food. If food is being served in abundance, refresh trays rather than putting all of it out at once to prevent spoilage. Any food that has not been put out at the end of the party can be donated to a local shelter or food pantry. Not only will this reduce waste, but this will enhance the spirit of Christmas giving to those in need. Call ahead for details on what the shelter can use and how to deliver.
  • Decorate the office with natural or recycled items. It is completely possible to turn trash into treasure. It’s called upcycling. If you need any last minute gift ideas with a more personal and eco-friendly touch, this is it. Get started with a mason jar. Use it to gift baking sets, remake your desk lamp and more. Get ideas here. If you’re wrapping last-minute gifts, use recycled paper or organic material to wrap a gift instead of using a new roll of wrapping paper which can save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
  • Don’t use disposable utensils for lunches or dinner.
    Twenty-five percent more trash is discarded from Thanksgiving to New Year’s than any other time of year. Let’s apply positive behavior change within ourselves and not add to that percentage.

    • Bonus: Before the year ends, set up a casual potluck with your coworkers and aim for a zero-waste shared meal.
  • After the season ends, recycle your Christmas tree. Yes, it’s possible to recycle your Christmas tree. Live trees are biodegradable. In the Los Angeles area, there are many locations where your tree can be turned into mulch. Find a location near you.
    • Bonus: If you don’t have a recycling program in your area, contact the National Christmas Tree Association: info@realchristmastrees.org to learn how you can begin one in your community.
  • Green employee gift ideas. Give gifts of locally produced food and products in cloth shopping bags or baskets with your company’s logo. Reusable coffee cups or travel mugs can also be purchased with company logos.

#GivingTuesday: A Powerful Catalyst for Behavior Change

The impact of giving on #GivingTuesday
Every year for the last five years, brands, non-profits and people have come together in gratitude to raise money for different causes. Last year, #GivingTuesday raised over $116M from over 700,000 donors across the world! While the monetary results of #GivingTuesday are significant, it can also be a powerful tool to trigger behavioral change as it addresses key behavior change barriers:

  • Lack of knowledge. The most common barrier for getting involved with any cause is lack of knowledge. Leading up to #GivingTuesday, brands and non-profits are actively promoting their causes, which increases public education. The more people know about causes, the deeper their connection is and the more likely they are to act.
  • Lack of social pressure. Social norms are accepted behaviors that people adopt and follow in current society. During #GivingTuesday, social media becomes a powerful motivator that plays a key role in establishing social norms. Givers are encouraged to use #GivingTuesday to share their efforts and, more importantly, signal their contributions publicly. When seeing that your friends are giving on #GivingTuesday, wouldn’t you be more inspired to get involved?
  • Structural barriers. The key goal of #GivingTuesday is to turn intention into action. Therefore, making participation convenient is key. On #GivingTuesday, people can choose their preferred way to donate, which makes the process of giving convenient.

#GivingTuesday is a powerful catalyst for behavior change. The opportunity is to make that change last. To ensure a long-lasting impact, it’s crucial to continue reinforcing actions donors can take year-round. Participated organizations should actively connect donors with meaningful actions: have them sign-up for the next beach cleanup, invite them to plant a tree or inform them about volunteer opportunities.
Make the impact of #GivingTuesday last!

To Create Change, Seeing is Believing

At SGA, the projects we pursue focus on behavioral changes and social marketing to improve local communities. Over the years, SGA has learned that one of the most effective tools to generate awareness and change is by producing short videos. According to emarketer, US adults now own more connected devices than ever and 5½ hours are spent indulging in video content a day. With statistics like this, producing an engaging video can transform an abstract concept such as stormwater management, to concrete actions for your audience.

Check out the videos SGA created for our Orange County Stormwater and PaintCare clients. Each video has a unique message, but both videos share two objectives: to ignite meaningful behavior change and to create a better world. While these are lofty and high-brow concepts, our videos are fun, relatable and dare we say it, educational.

For Orange County Stormwater, SGA cultivated a community champion named Kevin from Rancho Santa Margarita. We hired a small production company to film his beautiful drought tolerant backyard while he highlighted actionable goals he achieved to stop overwatering.

For PaintCare, we ran a pilot program to test the most effective message to get the Latino community to recycle paint. We ended up choosing to illustrate a fictional story between a father and daughter who are stumped about what to do with excess paint. With the help of whiteboard animators, we created the video below.

Videos are powerful tools to promote your social message and to foster behavior change. Next time you need to reach a wide audience, consider allocating a portion of your resources to producing videos. The results will far exceed the costs.

Education Led to Passion to Motivate Others: Whitney Schmucker

(This biographical piece is part of our series to introduce you to the SGA staff.)

After graduating from UC Berkeley, where I studied Marketing, I jumped into my dream job at Grey Advertising in San Francisco. I spent five years planning advertising campaigns for companies like: Adobe, Sandisk, BMW, and University of Phoenix.

After five years, I realized the work I was doing was just one small piece of the puzzle and I found it a constant source of frustration that I was not able to improve the parts of strategy that I felt were weaknesses. I wanted to be in a position to craft the strategy and problem solve to make a product successful, which would require me to expand my occupation from advertising to marketing.

I knew making this career change would be much easier with more education. So sitting in my office with a view of the Bay Bridge, I applied to business school in Paris, France, where I could not only further my education, but do so in an environment where people live consciously and savor the things (and products) around them.

Like most things in my life, I moved quickly. Six months later I was on a transcontinental plane with a very large suitcase (ok, possibly three).

Around the same time I launched into this adventure, I began to experience some serious health issues that forced me to become aware of the quality of our food sources, environmental chemicals, and other man-made byproducts that harm health and the environment. Having been a lifelong athlete, I had always prided myself on my health, knowledge of diet and self care practices, but what I was learning about the effects of man-made pollutants and their effects on health was truly eye opening.  The most shocking part was the lack of awareness and education that the general population had about what I now view as life-threatening concerns. For example, the amount of chemicals in our food, personal care products, and in our general environment is something the majority of Americans are completely unaware of.

I continued my environmental growth and education when I moved back to America and began to work in the marketing departments of various Fortune 500 companies, fine-tuning my skills, creating marketing strategies and observing consumer behavior.  Happy with my success but unsatisfied with its short lived rewards, my passion for creating true impact became apparent.

It’s one thing to convince someone to make a purchase: buy a t-shirt or computer software. It’s another thing to introduce information to people that inspires them to make a behavior change.

To me, this is the pinnacle of marketing: not selling goods but changing minds.

I made my way to SGA, where I combine my knowledge in environmental issues and social marketing to change minds and change behavior. Now, I strategize ways to eliminate barriers to zero waste, influence recycling behaviors and empower communities to improve water quality. The rewards are not short lived and the impact will incrementally contribute to a better world.

My Road to SGA: Judy Seitelman

(This is the first in a new series of biographical pieces to introduce you to the SGA staff.)

For 28 years, I worked independently as a management consultant focusing on strategic planning, new program development, marketing – including events, policies and procedures, and specialty documentation. My clients were primarily in higher education, but others were in credit card operations and processing, human resources management, hospitality, and forensic accounting. I also worked for several years as a technical writer for hardware and software companies.

Beyond the office, my environmental awareness kicked into high gear when I had children. Their school community service requirements forced me to open my eyes to the importance of promoting social and civic action early and often. We went to beach cleanups, helped with plastic bottle and aluminum can recycling on campuses, learned about waterway pollution at the local aquarium, and became regular household recyclers.

Becoming energy efficient started slowly with turning off lights, not running the water when brushing teeth, and cutting back on heating and air conditioning (wearing sweaters and opening windows, respectively). Later we changed out our old light bulbs to new, energy-savings types, and we switched to rechargeable batteries. In 2007, my husband and I decided to invest in home solar panels for two reasons: to save money on electricity over the long haul, and to be a part of the energy-savings solution. Just recently, we took another eco-friendly step as you can read here: “Tips Before Taking Out Your Greenway Lawn.” I have a near-zero water, lawn-less greenway that has cut my water and maintenance bills in half.

Just as my kids kick-started my better world thinking, they also precipitated my move to SGA. When my daughter moved out of the house, I decided it was time for me to seek greener pastures. (To be absolutely truthful, when I was offered my SGA job, my daughter said, “you have to say yes.”) Just as working on my own suited me as I raised a family, so does working with an intelligent, kind, and like-minded group of individuals as we try to make the world more livable for everyone. At SGA, the company seeks to motivate environmental behavioral change that improves households, neighborhoods, cities, and counties, one by one.

Tips Before Taking Out Your Greenway Lawn

California residents know that having an environmentally friendly lawn is important during this ongoing drought. However, before you dig up the lawn and make changes, have a plan in place. I did, but I also learned a few lessons along way. Here, I offer some insight that might save you from headaches.

Knowing I could do more to save water beyond our low-flow showerheads and low-water toilets, the L-shaped greenway lawn bordering the street was fair game for saving on weekly waterings.

Deciding to go lawn-less, I had two goals:

1) Save water.

2) Save money by having lower water bills and by reducing gardening expense by selecting every-other-week maintenance for my remaining landscaping.

Before deciding how to go about the task, I did a fair amount of internet research. I looked around my neighborhood, snapped photos and figured out what I wanted to do. I spoke with my gardener and a landscaper, and I checked with the city to learn about suggestions and rebates.

The easiest (though not cheapest) route was to remove the grass and plants completely. (Your city may require a percentage of planting in order to qualify your project for rebates). Just four bubbler sprinklers now support two, native, drought-tolerant trees in wood-chip planter areas. The remaining greenway contains decomposed granite with intermittent three-piece pathways of bouquet canyon stone.

The good news: I am saving water and money (though it will take a while to recoup my investment).

Not-so-good news: I need to tuck away some money to improve my design because it didn’t work out exactly as I envisioned it.

What you can learn from my mistakes:

1)    Think about the daily foot traffic along your greenway. If you have a lot of pedestrians, consider how they might impact your landscaping choices. In my case, once the rains began, the decomposed granite proved to be an irresistible target for footprints and gouges. In all fairness, passengers exiting cars along the no-longer-greenway had no choice but to step onto the wet surface. In retrospect, it’s not the ideal surface to use in this much-traveled space.

2)    Consider how a zero-plant greenway will affect your home’s curb appeal. I have abundant plants surrounding my home; nonetheless my initial reaction to losing the border greenery was “uh oh.” Incorporating even a few drought-tolerant plants along the greenway would introduce some height variation to the border; I’ll plan to purchase a few when the budget allows.

All said, once my new trees mature and I’m able to install enough stone and a few plants to eliminate the foot traffic and curb appeal issues, I’ll feel good about having made changes that are water-wise, functional, and attractive.

Sign up for SGA’s newsletter to keep up with the latest in community-based social marketing and behavior change.

Naming our Data: Bringing Data to Life through Characterization

It often began with the question, “Have you heard about IPM?”

You yourself may be wondering, What is IPM?

For the past year, we worked under a CalRecycle grant to promote Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to the City of Thousand Oaks and the neighboring cities of Camarillo and Moorpark. We got to work and surveyed a number of local residents to gauge their understanding of IPM, where they struggle in the IPM process, and to assess their willingness to try IPM practices.


A few months ago, we mentioned that data on its own doesn’t mean a whole lot. Often times, due to an overwhelming amount of data collected, not much is done with that data. We decided to take the extra step with our findings, and identified how our data might prove useful for the City of Thousand Oaks in improving its strategy.

Meet Diane, Wendy, Frank, and Oscar:

Don’t be fooled, these aren’t actually real people—they’re personas. Using our data, we constructed these personas to help us create an effective outreach strategy for Thousand Oaks.

Just as we did in the case of Downtown Long Beach, we segmented our collective of data and transformed our findings into an actionable strategy for IPM outreach. By transforming data into character profiles, we were able to see how it applied to different segments of the community’s population.

With Diane, Wendy, Frank, and Oscar as our guides, SGA and the City of Thousand Oaks were able to create strategies and decisions based upon which persona our audience was most comparable to:

For the Wendy Willings, we focused on simply asking them to try IPM.

For the Diane Do-Gooders, we created a way for them to share their positive experiences. We gave these Dianes the opportunity to be champions of IPM amongst their neighbors.

For the Franks On-the-Fence, we recruited the Wendy Willings and the Diane Do-Gooders to influence Frank to give IPM a try.

For the Oscar the Outsourcers, we made them aware that toxic pesticides can cause serious harm to the community’s water resources and health, and encouraged them to pursue less toxic pest control services.

Thanks to these characters, we were able to use our data to simplify our target community in a simple, concrete, and memorable way.

Here Comes the Rain Again

How ecstatic was I to hear the rain pouring on Friday night? Ok, I felt bad for those cute little kids in my neighborhood trick or treating on Halloween night wearing their best Elsa and superhero outfits. But it had been so long I don’t think I’ve ever rejoiced so much at the sound of rain. And let’s not forget the beautiful, crystal clear days following the rain that we indeed got. The drought is serious and I’m trying to do my part – and not just by doing the rain dance.

After reading and hearing so much about the drought, I found myself thinking about ways I could further reduce my water use. I don’t have a lawn to water or take long baths so I wasn’t exactly high up on the water supply depleters’ list. However, I recently learned I could ask my landlord for a water-saving showerhead. I had to call my apartment manager to fix the garbage disposal anyway and after the manager agreed to come in to fix my garbage disposal, I casually asked for a water-saving showerhead. “I understand that tenants could ask their landlords and it’s free,” I added, just in case.

Without missing a beat, however, she said it would be done. I was shocked. Was it really that easy? The second thought that went through my mind: why hadn’t I asked for this earlier? I am now a proud user of a water-saving showerhead that is helping to save our water.

Did you know that any tenant in the City of Los Angeles is entitled to a free water-saving showerhead? It turns out tenants are entitled to that and more so I thought I’d take it a step further. Stay tuned for more.

Reaching California’s Ethnic Communities

When we embarked on designing a campaign to promote paint recycling on behalf of PaintCare to Chinese-speaking populations in California, we wanted to make sure we based our campaign on data rather than long-held assumptions. What kind of messaging would resonate with this population?

Did they know paint was even recyclable?

Most Chinese-speaking communities did not know paint is recyclable, we found. We spoke to nearly 70 residents in Southern and Northern California and found that 92% didn’t know paint is recyclable. However, when asked if they would be likely to recycle paint, 72% said they would.

We also found that at least 40% of those surveyed said they had leftover paint in their homes that could be recycled at a participating paint store. The biggest motivator was found to be doing the right thing (66%).

PaintCare aired in-language radio ads in the San Francisco Bay Area. We pitched the story to Chinese-language media throughout California and placed six stories in print and TV stations including ETTV, Skylink and TVB.

Here’s a segment in Cantonese that ran in Skylink TV featuring our resident champion Cindy Gan and a segment on ETTV featuring our very own Philip Kao and Gan.

KPCC Radio also aired a story on the campaign.