Gwinnett County (Ga.)
Department of Water Resources
Miles of sewer pipeline: 2,650
No. sewer customers: 146,000
Consultants: Jordan, Jones and Goulding, Atlanta
Program development: $53,000
Average No. monthly visitors: 60
In a three-year time frame through 2008, 90% of the sewer overflows on residential service lines in Gwinnett County, Ga., were related to backups caused by fats, oil, and grease (FOG). Having worked extensively with restaurants to minimize buildup on commercial pipelines, Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources managers realized they'd need to launch another awareness campaign — this time, for homeowners.
Located 30 miles northeast of down-town Atlanta, Gwinnett was one of the nation's fastest growing counties in the 1980s, 1990s, and into the 2000s. By 2007, more than 776,000 people called the county home; 2025 population projections surpass 1 million.
In 2008, the department updated the decade-old ordinance with which businesses must comply to connect to the sewer system, implementing requirements specifically for disposing of fats, oils, and grease. But the department doesn't have similar regulatory authority over home-owners. Managers hoped that, by learning how what goes down the drain or through the garbage disposal contributes to sewage overflows in their home or neighborhood, residents would begin throwing out cooking residue rather than flushing it down the sink.
The department needed a public education program that makes that connection in the average homeowner's mind. It also had to be fun, appealing to both children and adults.
Through the department's demand-services contract, managers requested that Jordan, Jones and Goulding (JJG) develop content for a Web site and other out-reach components. After brainstorming by employees of both organizations produced a theme — Unclog the FOG — the department secured the URL of the same name to be housed within the county's Web site at www.gwinnettcounty.com.
The firm designed a schematic that outlined the site site's s navigational framework and served as a placeholder for the developing content. This ensured the site would flow the way the department wanted it to and feature appropriate topics and subject matter. The firm didn't provide Web site design services because the county's communication staff develops and maintains all coding and formatting.
The project was divided into three tasks: developing content for a proprietary Web site; researching existing materials, such as videos or interactive animations, within the public domain; and creating brochures.
The first step was developing content for an interactive Web site with visual elements that would be used in all related material.
When Water Resources and JJG representatives met in mid-March 2009 for the program's kick-off meeting, department employees emphasized their desire to personify key elements to catch p people's attention. This led to the inception of the Fats Fiend, the Oil Offender, and the Grease Goblin. (Though the name Grease Goblin had been used by other public agencies, Gwinnett County created an entire entirely new character.) Their nemesis would be “Secret Agent H2O,” who works to keep the group at bay by recruiting school children and community members to join the fight.
This narrative served as the basis for conveying relevant information.
Each character has its own page on the Web site that explains what foods it can be found in and how it “attacks” the collection system. Other pages use photos and graphics to illustrate the impact of greasy food residue on the sewer system and ways to prevent it. Such pages include frequently asked questions; the role that the county, restaurants, and the public play in minimizing residue buildup; activities, such as puzzles and coloring sheets, designed specifically for children; and how to request a speaker. The overall tone is conversational and informative.
There's also a page explaining how the collection system works, including information on the miles of pipe and number of pump stations and plants that make up the wastewater treatment system. This information was included to provide context for why preventing buildup is so critical.
JJG didn't find any videos already existing in the public domain, so the firm created animations that show how lipids accumulation leads to backups. One shows the cross-section of a pipe as gunk builds up on the interior walls; another begins with someone pouring bacon grease down the drain before moving on to a resulting sewage backup in the bathroom and a nearby stream.
Water resources employees also wanted direct interaction with the community through workshops and speaking opportunities, so they asked that a presentation be developed for each of the program's three target audiences: students, the general public, and restaurants/businesses. The budget was expanded to create the animations and develop the presentations.
The branded characters are used only in material for school students and the general public, while information targeted to restaurants and other regulated businesses is straightforward and succinct. The goal is to keep the message consistent while acknowledging the different informational needs of each audience. “It's much easier to speak to the public now,” says Grease Management Supervisor James Jones. “I have documents and brochures to hand out that help explain the problem and what we as a community can do to solve it.”
The program has piqued the curiosity of agencies around the country, including a regional water planning group in nearby Atlanta and a utility in Santa Maria, Calif., that asked how to incorporate “Unclog the FOG” into its prevention program.
Meanwhile, the department's efforts to bring the message into schools came to fruition in January when employees were invited to participate in an elementary school science fair. In addition to program materials, field staff brought along service trucks used to maintain the collection system to give students an up-close look at what it takes to remove buildup.
Teaching the public how to properly dispose of kitchen waste doesn't have to be part of a larger program like industrial pretreatment. Instead, it can be front and center of a strategic initiative that educates the community while protecting their valuable infrastructure assets.
— Davis (email@example.com) is a senior strategic communications consultant for Jordan, Jones & Goulding of Norcross, Ga.
For a link to Gwinnett County's FOG ordinance, click here.