For about a year and a half, Vancouver’s regional government has been running a pretty innovative initiative to discourage bottled-water consumption. Here’s a deliciously subversive decal from the tap water campaign that I spied on the back of one of Metro Vancouver’s trucks this morning.
The large type reads “Tap Water. Drink it.” and the secondary copy says “World Class Water: Mountain Fresh and Pure.” Here’s to truth in advertising.
Now, I haven’t yet seen this on a billboard anywhere; Metro would have a hard time coughing up the cash for an outdoor campaign. But how great would that be, if the kind of money that Pepsi and Coke pumped into Dasani and Aquifina, instead sold some of the finest water on earth, the stuff that’s piped straight to your house? Does anyone else out there know of a local government that is actively marketing its water like this?
Last summer, Metro Vancouver also partnered with Pacific Cinematheque’s Summer Visions Film Institute for Youth to produce a series of public service announcements about drinking tap water. They’re all pretty good, but here’s my favorite of the bunch:
Metro has been working on other programs as well. During the Olympics, Metro parked a Kewl Earth Water Wagon outside the Main Library downtown, and offered refills of fresh tap water to visitors and residents. According to corporate communications division manager David Hocking, some 4,700 people took the “tap water pledge” during the two weeks of the games, compared to 3,700 who did so during previous 17 months.
The regional government also developed a program with the new Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel. The property offers co-branded reusable Metro Vancouver water bottles for sale in guest rooms, for visitors who would prefer not to use the one-off bottles in the mini-bar when they head out on daytrips into the city.
This is all classic community-based social marketing. Metro isn’t trying to educate residents or drown them in brochures or make them feel bad—it’s working to build new social norms. How is it going? In 2008, as part of its Zero Waste Challenge, Metro set a goal to reduce the sale of bottled water in the region by 20 percent by the end of this year. Hocking says they’ll do a survey at the end of the year to find out how they did. I’ll let you know when he does.
The Town that Food Saved (Rodale, $25) is among the most engaging, thoughtful, and manure-stained-honest appraisals of local agriculture and edibles since Michael Pollan rocketed to cult fame with a seven-word manifesto about plants.
The town in question is an otherwise unremarkable little dogpath called Hardwick, Vermont, which popped up on the national foodie scope a few years back after author Ben Hewitt wrote a magazine piece about its happy convergence of iconoclastic producers, food-related non-profits, cafes, doers, and dreamers. The New York Times followed suit, as did assorted other buzz-makers.
Why the fuss? It turns out that Hardwick hosts a wide range of innovative agricultural businesses and thinktanks, a semi-cohesive spontaneous community of “agrepreneurs.” The mix includes salt-of-the-earth farmers, publicity-hungry eNGO executive directors, and values-driven business people who are accomplishing a great deal with minimal fuss. While many small-town Americans still get groceries from Buy N’ Large, Hardwick has cooked up an almost-sustainable honest-to-god local food system of CSAs, co-ops, value-added geniuses, and everything in between.
You characterize yourself as “a very mediocre economist.” How does a mediocre economist win the Nobel Peace Prize?
I was just one of hundreds who shared the prize for our collective work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I understand people and policy, and people and delusion, but I’m not a topnotch academic.
You understand delusion—what do you mean?
North America-wide polls reveal that most people think they are green consumers. There are so many books telling you how you can change your life and be green, but really the only way we can get there is by having laws and rules that prevent us from producing or emitting carbon.
Will carbon offsets help?
Quality research consistently shows that subsidies, like offsets, go significantly to “free-riders,” people and firms who get money for doing what they were going to do anyway. We must make things happen that were otherwise not going to happen and that require changes to prices (like a stronger carbon tax) and regulations (like building codes and vehicle standards) so that, for example, all homes get insulated. So when you think about buying an offset, I recommend instead sending your guilt money to organizations that are trying to change laws, like the Suzuki Foundation, the Pembina Institute, and PowerUp Canada.