The concept of “going green”—meaning recycling, conserving resources and making environmentally sound choices—has gone mainstream, but in Pittsburgh there’s a problem: recycling bins are blue.
Students in the Projects in Marketing course in the College of Business Administration (CBA) discovered that this discrepancy is something of a problem, and one that they needed to solve.
Each semester, the course runs its own ad agency and develops a marketing campaign for real clients. Past partners have included Honda Automobiles, the Central Intelligence Agency and Major League Baseball, where students partnered with FOX Sports on a sustainability campaign for the 2019 All Star Weekend.
This year, the client was the City of Pittsburgh and the project was to revamp the city’s recycling initiative. Then came a global pandemic.
“Students were supposed to present in the City-County building with the mayor in attendance, but we’ve pivoted many things this semester,” said Kate Ledger, who taught the course this spring and also serves as assistant vice chancellor for marketing in the Office of University Communications and Marketing.
Acting as a real marketing agency would, the students quickly adapted their proposal for the city to reflect a recycling program under the new norms of living through COVID-19. And instead of a trip downtown, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto came to them, via Zoom.
“I appreciate your work on this,” the mayor told the class. Diverting materials from the waste stream “is not only critical, but very, very timely … if we’re going to get to Zero Waste by 2030.”
The agency’s campaign was called, “Building a Blue 412.”
Zach Passalacqua, who recently earned dual degrees in marketing from CBA and in psychology from the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, said surveys with resident focus groups and landlords revealed “a lack of association between the color blue and recycling in general. There’s not really a connection there, which is very interesting to me. It’s more heavily associated with green.”
The mayor said the students were “spot on” with naming the marketing campaign. He was curious to know other areas where the city had room for improvement.
“We found a lot of people don’t believe that recycling actually goes to a recycling plant,” said Matthew Nieman, who just graduated with a degree in marketing from CBA and a certificate in communication from the Dietrich School. “Providing credibility is a huge part of changing people’s behaviors. Visiting a recycling plant would go a long way.”
Part of “Building a Blue 412’s” integrated marketing approach involved education and increasing positive perception of the curbside recycling program through materials that could be implemented at any time and in any neighborhood.
Students drafted public service announcements, social media campaigns, public relations request letters to local businesses and letters for residents to use to contact their landlords requesting a blue recycling bin.
“The city will indeed use the students’ work” to reinforce associations with the blue bins used for recycling in Pittsburgh, said Alicia Carberry, operations assistant in the Office of Mayor Peduto, adding that updates to the existing recycling program may be forthcoming.
“Despite everything we’ve gone through with this turn of events, the students have handled it masterfully,” said Ledger. “We’re proud of this work and we are excited to see it implemented one day.”