California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Innovations Case Studies

Summary: Save Money and the Environment Too!

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January 2000 marked the fifth year of the award-winning promotional campaign in the San Francisco Bay Area to encourage shoppers to “Save Money and the Environment Too.” The campaign is a unique partnership that combines the efforts of 110 cities and counties in the San Francisco Bay region with more than 400 supermarkets. The goal of the campaign is to educate consumers on the first two steps of the popular phrase: reduce, reuse, recycle.

This campaign is a model of how local governments and industry can work together to increase consumer awareness about how their actions impact the environment. The campaign promoted simple money-saving tips for shoppers to stop producing waste and buy reusable and long-lasting products. The campaign focused on television and radio commercials to get its message across.

During the past five years, the campaign used the following media tools to educate consumers on waste reduction:

  • Banners at most heavily traveled BART stations
  • Ads in newspapers and coupon books mailed to consumers
  • 6.5–8 million grocery bags each year
  • Milk cartons
  • In-store advertising, including displays, brochures, bag stuffers, posters and shelf-tags
  • Grocery certificate drawings
  • Hotline messages

The regional media strategy was designed to maximize frequency of television and radio coverage by combining paid advertising, donated advertising, public service announcements, and local print features to achieve a high visibility for the campaign.

This campaign was one of the first in the nation to use sophisticated market research tools and regional mass media advertising to advance the recycling message. The campaign used exit polling and focus groups to refine its message and relied on public relations professionals to help develop and guide the design of this program.

Originally this campaign was named “Shop Smart.”  However, coordinators determined from focus groups and evaluations conducted during the initial years of the program that this name did not clearly convey the message intended. As a result, the campaign is now called: “Save Money and the Environment Too.”

Program Characteristics


Led by the City of San Francisco, a group of city and county representatives met in 1995 to launch the campaign. A $150,000 grant from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) provided valuable assistance at the outset. The CalRecycle developed a waste prevention education partnership that year with the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), the League of California Cities (LCC) and the Local Government Commission (LGC).

A local working group coordinated the campaign. The group included city and county solid waste and recycling staff and representatives from the statewide Waste Prevention Education Partnership chaired by David Assmann of the San Francisco Recycling Program. The working group was formed out of a group of city and county recycling staff that met to discuss potential regional campaigns in the San Francisco Bay region.

Working group meetings generally alternated with larger general meetings open to all recycling staff in the Bay Area. Initially the group met monthly but changed to bimonthly as the campaign neared it’s launching. The working group also set up subgroups to work on media relations and evaluation of the campaign.

Staff at counties and cities generally worked together to set up, maintain, and dismantle the displays in supermarkets. In some cases, counties coordinated the entire effort, and in other situations, cities handled the staffing. Many cities and counties used volunteers, and two counties hired the Conservation Corps to help with staffing. Total staffing for the campaign included more than 500 people, at least half of whom were volunteers.

O’Rorke Public Relations and Advertising was hired in December 1995 to coordinate the news conference, handle the media purchases, and promote the campaign. The California Department of Conservation (DOC) also contributed $55,000 and 500,000 Buy Recycled brochures.  Printed materials and advertising contributed by Safeway, Inc. exceeded $50,000 in value.

The campaign initially promoted seven waste prevention and buy recycled messages.  The seven messages were:

  • Close the Recycling Loop: Choose recycled packaging: glass, aluminum and steel.
  • Close the Recycling Loop: Look for “Made with Recycled Content” on products and packaging.
  • Reduce Waste: Bring your own reusable bag.
  • Reduce Waste: Concentrates and economy sizes use less packaging.
  • Reduce Waste: Reusable products save resources.
  • Reduce Waste: Items with less packaging save resources.
  • Reduce Waste: Compost your fruit, vegetable & plant trimmings.

As anticipated, the cooperative and regional characteristics of this campaign generated media interest. The campaign received in-depth coverage in the media throughout the region, including stories in more than 46 newspapers and 29 newsletters, in-depth interviews on 9 radio stations, and news coverage by 5 TV stations.

The paid media campaign in 1996 included more than 1,600 commercials on more than 60 radio stations, 780 television commercials on 4 broadcast television, and 7 cable stations and ads in 50 newspapers.  Additional public service announcements aired on 4 broadcast television stations, 29 cable stations, and 19 radio stations. Campaign ads were also translated into Chinese and Spanish for radio and print.

More than 1,370 radio spots aired during traffic reports (each featuring one of the seven campaign themes); these were combined with 66 spots on KCBS radio and 88 spots on K101 in 1996.  Santa Clara County also purchased 49 spots on KKSJ, 36 spots on KBAY-FM, and 20 Spanish language spots on KAZA.

The radio spots were edited versions of the waste prevention spots produced by DDB Needham for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) (using a Shop Smart tag).  As part of the radio contract agreement, K101 also broadcast live reports from a Safeway Store in San Jose during the campaign and gave away an additional four grocery certificates ($101 each) donated by Safeway.

The television campaign included buying 23 spots on KPIX-TV (Channel 5) and 15 spots on KTVU-TV (Channel 2) in 1996.  San Francisco and San Jose supplemented the regional effort through purchasing 650 TV spots on KNTV (Channel 11), KICU (Channel 36), and cable channels A&E, BET, CNN, Discovery, E!, ESPN, FX, Lifetime, MTV, SCI, TNT, USA, and VH1. The TV spots were edited versions of three waste prevention spots produced by DDB Needham for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) (using a Shop Smart tag).  The three spots were aired on a rotational basis.

Individual jurisdictions also supplemented the regional effort through radio ads, newspaper ads, and direct mail.

In 1997 the working group conducted another campaign almost identical to the first, but without the $150,000 startup grant from the CalRecycle. The campaign also narrowed its focus to the theme of Shop Smart: Save Resources and Prevent Waste.

Exit Polls and Focus Groups

The 1996 and 1997 campaigns used exit polls to evaluate overall effectiveness. Comprehensive in-store surveys were conducted at participating supermarkets in four different counties. Survey questions ranged from asking consumers what elements of the campaign they remembered to what they felt the campaign was trying to communicate.

These polls showed that in 1997–1996, 42 to 43 percent of shoppers remembered one or more elements from the campaign, and that the campaign reached more than one million shoppers. In 1996, nearly 60 percent of shoppers remembered elements of the campaign while it was still in progress. More than 1.5 million people remembered the media campaign (radio, television, and print). On average, each Bay Area resident would have heard 6 radio spots and seen 3 television ads.

Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of shoppers who noticed the materials were interested in the messages of the campaign in 1996. More than four-fifths (84 percent) who noticed the materials were interested in the messages of the campaign, with more than half (54 percent) saying it affected their buying habits.

The 1996 and 1997 campaigns received very positive feedback, and end-of-campaign surveys showed that consumers were “getting the message.”

Shoppers reacted positively to the look of the campaign materials, with an average of 60 percent saying they liked the displays, shelf tags, radio, and television ads. The display units received the most favorable response, with about 70 percent saying they liked the units. Fifty percent said they liked the radio ads.

However, in order to continue to produce an effective campaign with as much impact as possible, a series of focus groups were conducted prior to the beginning of the 1998 campaign to evaluate the effectiveness of the outreach materials and messages. Based on the results from those groups, the following changes were incorporated into the 1998 campaign.

Name change. The focus group revealed that consumers would be much more motivated to change shopping behavior by a message that shows they can save money while they help the environment than by any other combination of messages. In addition, the focus group showed that many consumers believed they were already shopping smart. As a result, in 1998 the campaign changed its name from “Shop Smart” to “Save Money and the Environment Too” (SMATET).

Less is More. The number of promotional messages in the campaign decreased from four to two.  Professional advice stressed that fewer messages increase the odds that consumers will remember and act upon what they learn. Consumers react best to messages that are straightforward and impact them personally; promoting too many messages only leaves them confused. The campaign’s two secondary messages changed to the following:

  • Buy reusable and long-lasting products
  • Buy the largest size you can use

The “Buy Recycled” message was deleted from the campaign.

Logo changed to reflect a more universal shopping message. In order to move beyond the grocery store settings, the 1998 campaign incorporated a new logo. The working group retained the rights to reproduce and distribute this logo to other jurisdictions.

Other Campaign Changes. The campaign focused on women between the ages of 25 and 54. The focus group results showed that women are the primary grocery shoppers and that many of the behaviors the campaign targets for change take place in the supermarket. More than 50 percent of women work today. Research showed that working women are more likely to change their behavior based on additional information and reminders than are those who don’t work.

In addition, the primary outreach mechanism for the 1998 campaign became media advertising. This was both to maximize the impact of the money available (in order to reach a higher media profile) and to minimize the amount of work for cities and counties in their jurisdiction. Many jurisdictions felt they could not sustain the effort required to put out and maintain displays and shelf tags in every supermarket.

Based on professional recommendations, the campaign coordinators decided that it was more effective to maximize their media effort instead of continuing to evaluate the campaign through surveys. Media consultants recommended that future campaigns also target Hispanic, Asian-American, and African-American consumers, as well as college students and young adults.


The campaign had a significant impact not only in educating shoppers, but also in influencing buying habits. Sales analysis of product sales at Safeway Stores showed sales of well-packaged products (minimal packaging, recycled content) increased by 19.4 percent during the 1996 campaign, while sales of overpackaged products declined by 36 percent. The increase in sales of well-packaged products was considered statistically significant, whereas the decline in sales of overpackaged products was not considered statistically significant since virtually all of the sales decline was in one product category.

In 1999, the paid electronic media campaign (727 radio ads and 953 television ads) resulted in 28,826,829 impressions (which means that, on average, 78 percent of the 5,042,300 adults in the Bay Area saw or heard 5.4 commercials during the campaign). Sixty-one percent of the target audience saw or heard the spots an average of more than 3.3 times. Bonus radio and television spots resulted in several million additional impressions.


A working group of five to seven members manages the campaign. The working group, solid waste and recycling professionals from local governments, meets monthly to review and discuss the progress of the campaign. In 1998 and 1999, a program coordinator was hired to handle the day-to-day campaign responsibilities. The part-time coordinator began work on the 1999 campaign in the spring of 1998 and was contracted through February of 1999.

The working group did not set up formal agreements with all the cities and counties, but they used agreements when required. The City of San Francisco's public relations agency purchased the media, and the working group generally used letters as agreements. Some cities and counties required documentation from the PR agency for payments to be made.

The working group developed a formula for donations and asked cities and counties to contribute what they could, using the formula as a rough guideline. In 1998, the group started using the level of financial contributions as a criterion for determining whether or not to include city and county logos on BART banners and other public relations efforts.

The cities and counties share financial responsibilities for the campaign.  In 2000, San Francisco handled the media purchases; Alameda County handled TV and radio production; and Santa Clara County paid the coordinator.

The working group has tried to keep the structure as informal and flexible as possible in order to minimize the time spent on administration.

The coordinator has taken over a lot of the work initially done by cities and counties (i.e., fundraising from jurisdictions, liaison with the supermarkets, and coordinating with the media).

Tips for Replication

  • Planning a regional campaign takes a lot of time and effort. Allow a year to set up your first campaign, and start planning the next campaign as soon as the current campaign has been completed.  The first Shop Smart campaign took 14 months to plan, and work starts on the next campaign the day after the current one is completed.
  • Success depends on having a good core group to do the planning and a staff person to keep things on track once the campaign has been established. (This person can easily be part time.).
  • Don't reinvent the wheel—search out and use existing materials and research (SMATET will allow any local government to use graphics, television, and radio spots).
  • Don't rely on grant funding for an ongoing campaign. Part of the stability of the SMATET campaign is that the base funding comes from cities and counties every year.
  • Organize informally to minimize administrative costs. The key to this is allocating responsibilities clearly at the beginning of the campaign, diligent monitoring of tasks and follow-up, and ensuring that cities and counties pool their best available skills and resources.
  • In-store and display units are best used in individual community campaigns. Large regional campaigns would require too much volunteer labor to set up. SMATET chose to focus its efforts on the use of paid and donated media coverage to get its messages across.


Pursuant to contract (IWM-C8028) with the University of California at Santa Cruz for a series of 24 studies and summaries, Gary Liss & Associates researched and wrote this summary for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).

The statements and conclusions in this summary are those of the contractor and not necessarily those of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), its employees, or the State of California. In addition, the data in this report was provided by local sources but not independently verified. The State and its contractors make no warranty, express or implied, and assume no liability for the information contained in this text. Any mention of commercial products, companies or processes shall not be construed as an endorsement of such products or processes.

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Last updated: October 5, 2015
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