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How Ku-ring-gai Council is engaging community members to inspire environmental action

21 Jun 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

When Sydney’s Ku-ring-gai Council began creating a new website aimed at promoting environmental action in the community, it wanted to make sure its messaging was right.

“We know that community members often don’t relate to the term ‘Net Zero’,” said Emma Treadgold, Team Leader of Sustainability Engagement.

“They see it as too big to tackle and it doesn’t speak to them at an individual level.”

So how did Ku-ring-gai Council tailor its website and communications to better talk to local residents?

Understanding the audience and their barriers to action

“Firstly, we decided on our target market, which was people aged 30-65 who are interested in sustainability but not yet taking action,” Ms Treadgold said.

“We already had a strong proportion of the community on board with our environmental initiatives, but it was this currently disengaged group, who have an existing interest, that we felt would be a relatively easy win.”

Next, the Council did demographic research on this cohort and were surprised to find a juxtaposition of people and circumstances.

“There were some from high socioeconomic backgrounds who wanted to invest in solar, batteries and electric vehicles; and those who lived in large homes but were keen to reduce energy bills,” Ms Treadgold said.

After extensive community consultation, Ms Treadgold and team then itemised all the barriers that were preventing people from making environmentally-conscious changes to their lifestyle.

“Often it was simple things, like people feeling that saving the environment was out of their hands, that is was more of a big business issue, or that it involved inconvenient lifestyle changes.

“Of course, all of these are myths. So we knew the website had to provide clear advice on how people could contribute easily and meaningfully.”

Tailoring the site

The council then engaged a User-Experience (UX) designer to ensure the journey through the site was tailored appropriately.

“We wanted to provide an online experience that made sense to people with different living situations,” Ms Treadgold said.

“When visiting a site, people don’t want to have to click ten times before they find something that’s relevant to them. Nor do community members want to see B2B-style subheadings like ‘energy, waste and transport’. They want something that speaks to them directly as a home-owner, apartment-dweller or renter.

“Our site allows people to pick their own journey, based on their interests and circumstances. We do provide the option to go straight to ‘solar’ or example, but there is also a dedicated section for people who rent their home or live in apartments.”

The latter demographic was especially important for the Council to target, as its research told them renters often feel powerless when it comes to taking action to reduce their emissions.

“We wanted to make it known to people in apartments and rentals that there are lots of things they can do. One of the biggest ways they can help is to ensure their super and investments are with environmentally-ethical companies,” Ms Treadgold said.

Getting the language right

With the term ‘net zero’ alone failing to move the dial for many community members, Ms Treadgold and team decided to centre the messaging around building a ‘healthy, efficient and comfortable home’.

“Different audiences obviously gravitate towards different things, but this was a way to capture the interests of the breadth of our target audience – as shown through our research,” Ms Treadgold said.

“When we send out eNews, rather than having this big statement about reaching net zero by 2040, we think about how this actually impacts our community members day-to-day.

“This, combined with our understanding of what residents are struggling with, has allowed us to create some really successful communications materials.”

Adding a community hub

Ku-ring-gai’s site also contains a Community Hub which is updated with local resident case studies, volunteer events and ways to connect with your community – a feature that Ms Treadgold says has been pivotal.

“Our research told us that community members would much rather hear from a neighbour or someone in a similar suburb, rather than from someone at Council. It’s also a general marketing principle that people are more easily convinced by their peers. So it is little wonder that this aspect of the website has been so key to the success of the initiative,” she said.

Making the platform available to other councils

While Ms Treadgold admits her council is well-resourced with good community support, she says other councils can easily adopt its approach.
“Firstly, our platform and IP is available for other Councils on a similar web platform to use and rebrand. It can be very expensive to go through UX research and build a new website from scratch, so we have made it possible for others to use our template.

“Secondly, like any Council, we are more than happy to share our ideas and experience with others. For us, that is the beauty of a Council. Whatever you are struggling with, someone else has likely gone through the same challenges and can offer a solution. We have already utilised ideas from other Councils and are more than happy to pay it forward.”

Looking ahead

With Ku-ring-gai’s site already demonstrating impressive results, Ms Treadgold and team are looking forward to targeting the youth category next year.

“We know that youth is just such a different kettle of fish when it comes to sustainability marketing and we will be looking for unique ways to engage this audience online.

“Our research tells us that older children and adolescents are more interested in being upskilled so that they can advocate for sustainability. So obviously we need an entirely different strategy to engage young people.”

Talking more about Ku-ring-gai’s strategy and future plans, Emma Treadgold will present at the upcoming Sustainability in Government Conference.

This year’s event will be held 28 June at the Radisson Blu Plaza Sydney.

Learn more and register your place here.





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