Ensuring Sustainability: The Best Practices in Ambassador Style Programs

Engaging residents, particularly in multi-family buildings, in resource recovery and sustainability programs needs continual reinforcement, which is resource-intensive for building owners and property managers. To implement and sustain waste programs today requires the help and knowledge of citizens and tenants themselves. The purpose of an ambassador program is to increase scope, efficacy, and sustainability of citizen-participation programs where success is measured by the amount and quality of participation. The goals of the ambassador style programs discussed below are to reduce and correctly divert food waste while engaging tenants through learning to accomplish the reductions.

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Many of these programs begin and operate in a similar manner,  initially contacting multi-family complexes to be part of a recycling/composting program. Then, by supporting residents to begin the program by handing out educational materials and explaining program specifics, the implementation begins. There is diversity in the various ambassador programs running nationwide for the purpose of increasing recycling and composting accuracy. This variety comes in form of outreach, incentives, and implementation of programs but they all have common goals of igniting and increasing community passion for recycling and waste diversion.

Global Green is currently surveying eco-ambassador programs, and implementing eco-ambassador program training workshops together with city and real estate partners and neighborhoods. Eco-ambassador programs can also serve as a broader form of citizen action at the neighborhood or city level. In Washington DC, the City uses an eco-ambassador program to empower residents to communicate its Sustainable D.C. goals (including waste diversion as one component).  In New Orleans, Global Green is working with an ambassador (champion) program at the neighborhood level as a part of the Water Wise Program (1). The Water Wise Neighborhood Champions Program focuses on building neighborhood cohorts that develop green infrastructure priorities together and implement these projects as a team.

In the US and Canada, there are several programs that focus on waste diversion in Multi-Family Dwellings, utilizing resident ambassadors group for continuing recycling and food waste programs. Two such programs are : Seattle’s “Friends of Recycling and Composting” (FORC) (2) program and Toronto’s “3Rs Ambassador Program”(3).  Global Green has used these two programs as a model for its food waste and recycling work in collaboration with city agencies including Santa Monica ,  SF Environment, and property management partners. (4)

Seattle - Incentives for Ambassadors

The city of Seattle implemented its Friends of Recycling and Composting program (FORC) with the goal of increased citywide recycling and organics collection. This program is a component of the multi-family organics program as part of resident engagement.

Seattle’s multifamily sector has 5,200 buildings and 146,000 units. Since 2010 FORC hast trained over 750 thus far passionate community members with requisite knowledge to be recycling volunteers and experts, which empowers them to be a resource for their community to increase recycling rates and decrease contamination of streams. The volunteers can answer questions from neighbors, work with stakeholders to ensure collection occurs and distribute engagement materials to residents.

Through this program in Seattle the apartment/condo building residents, facility staff, or managers can sign up to be their buildings’ designated “Friend of Recycling and Composting”. They receive training and resources (in many languages) to help them perform outreach and education to their neighbors. Socorro Medina who runs this program adds an additional intangible incentive, “People may want to know that they will be helping their building to recycle and compost more, and because of the way our rates are set up, the more you divert from the garbage, the more you have an opportunity to save on the bill.” This provides a rolling incentivization for ambassadors and residents alike to help their building.  

Toronto

Toronto’s program follows a similar plan of action including enrolling residents and property managers of buildings to do educational outreach in order to help tenants reduce their waste output. The enrollment process includes filling out the application form, completing a ten-minute phone interview and attending a three-hour training session. Eligibility requirements of Toronto’s program include:

  • Must be 16 years of age or older

  • Live in an apartment or condo in Toronto (Property Managers and Superintendent can also sign up to become a 3Rs Ambassador)

  • Your building receives waste collection service from the City of Toronto

  • Your building manager should be made aware of and approve of the program as they may need to assist in delivering the education/outreach program

One of the reported tangible incentives for Toronto’s 3R’s ambassador program is earning volunteer hours towards school or work volunteer requirements. Other incentives listed are helping the city reach the waste diversion target of 70% (5)  and meeting people who are passionate about the environment and waste management.

We asked Toronto’s Coordinator of Volunteer Management, William To, about some of the challenges of a program like this. He cited “volunteer fatigue” as a potential issue if ambassadors take on too much too soon, didn't see the result they hope for, or have many early successes but don't know what to do next and lose focus. He recommends ensuring that volunteers feel supported and appreciated, broadening the “success measures” that volunteers track to include number of people engaged and decreased contamination rather than solely focusing on diversion rate, and creating the networking opportunities so that ambassadors feel like they are part of a community of volunteers rather than simply on their own. He also has had positive results from buildings having more than one ambassador, so that they form a team and are able to share responsibility and think creatively together about their community’s needs.
 

Below is a table outlining the main components between various ambassador-style programs:

  • The time commitment is the required time the program deems necessary to be given ambassador titleship and begin work in the community.

  • Ambassador program make-up, the breakdown of participants in the program.

  • There are differences in incentives per program whether it be tangible, intangible or you yourself must pay for the program.

  • A certificate or award may be given to the participant in the program certifying completion.

  • The number trained per workshop and overall outlines the scope of each program and how many ambassadors have been trained

  • Recruitment process views the outreach and marketing that goes behind program planning

Program NameTime Commitment / DutiesWho are the Ambassadors?IncentivesCertificate?# trained per workshop/overall timeRecruitment Process
FORC (Seattle)2.5 hour trianingApartment/Condo Building (5+ units) Residents, Facility Staff, Property Managersnono750 since it started in 2010 listed on city website, presentations and tabling at residences, direct mailing/ electronic use
Eco-Ambassador (Global Green)2-hour training workshop, 10 hours annually Paid property managers, Volunteers $25-$75 gift cards or package of materials related to program missionnoabout 15 per workshop eventbrite, social media for GG, blog post
3Rs (Toronto)3, 3-hour training program 10 hours/month Apartment/Condo Building Residents, Property Managers, Superintendents quarterly competition for $25 gift card yes370 trainedcommunity events, presentations
Sustainable DC Ambassadors (Washington D.C.)At least one event per month (2-3 hours)Volunteer Prizes to volunteers for the most hours provided with a reusable messenger bag with everything needed to be an ambassador700 residents engaged so far Website, Ambassadors recruit more ambassadors, weekly emails and in person meetings
Master Recycler/ Composter (Dakota County, MN)6, 3-hour trainings +30hrs min outreachvolunteerN/ALInkedIn Certificateavg. about 20 but class fills 30 ($30 workshop fee)newsletters, press releases, advertising on FB group.
Eco-Leaders Eco-Cycle Boulder, CO Perform visual waste audits, fill out monthly online surveys, be a resource to their multifamily unit community Multi-family, Single-family, businessesMultifamily unit Eco-Leaders recieve a $100 gift card per yearNo application, will have some sort of “contract” soon Approximately 20 per workshop Advertising to property managers, tenants in form of fliers and door hangers; Putting in newspaper
WaterWise Neighborhood Champions. New Orleans, LA. (Global Green & Partners)One and a half day training program Neighborhood membersIndividuals receive T-shirt and resource binder. Group receives $1000 in green infrastructure seed money for projects Yes, certificate givenaround 20 a series of outreach events targeted to that particular neighborhood, doorhangers, flyers, posters, text messages, phone calls, door-to-door canvassing and baseline surveys

Washington DC - Ambassadors as a Part  of Broader Sustainability City Programs

We spoke with Everette Bradford from Washington D.C. who runs Sustainable DC Ambassadors and focuses not just on recycling in homes but sustainability in general. He iterated, “We provide our ambassadors with a Sustainable DC Plan 101 to talk about what sustainability looks like in the District. The Sustainable DC Plan sets actions, goals, and targets to help the District become, in one generation, the healthiest, greenest and most livable city in the US or by 2032. The date was set 20 years from the creation of the original plan.” By having this goal, ambassadors are working towards a mission which propels them to be engaged in outreach and update the public on the sustainable goals initiative they are working towards.

There were 700 residents initially engaged in 9 public work groups that are centered around recommendations the community has on improvement to citywide challenges. This idea of breaking into groups with community members and breaking down diverse challenges allows for an array of opinions surround different subjects that impact the community. The recommendations then became Sustainable DC goals which the ambassadors helped to educate in the community and gather more responses. The ambassadors attend tabling events, reach out to fellow citizens and spread the word about Sustainable DC and the work they are doing. They serve as outreach tools to the wider population for providing information on sustainable programs and initiatives to get involved with. The ambassadors distribute surveys regarding the SDC 2.0 goals and sign up community members for the newsletter. The program works to create and sustain a conversation surrounding sustainability in the DC area. The ambassadors are given promotional and technical materials for outreach as well as trained in proper techniques for their tabling and in person collections.

New York City - Training Ambassadors

An example of another city with a community recycling program is New York City, along with the NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) has implemented an Environmental Ambassador program. This program runs through GrowNYC in which NYCHA residents are trained to become community recycling experts. (6) They are required to attend 2 recycling workshops and conduct 12 hours of local outreach. The volunteers are incentivized through perks such as resume experience, field trips, gear, community service hours and ambassador certificates. In 2016 when the program was created there were 125 trainings conducted and recycling programs have been implemented in 853 buildings.

Program Reporting and Impact

While it is difficult to precisely assess the effects of Ambassador programs, we can measure some aspects of ambassador programs such as number of those reached be it ambassadors trained or individuals reached. The table below shows the dimensions of programs including the target groups within the areas serviced and the years the program has been in operation. The amount of years a program has been in existence tends to lead to a higher number of ambassadors trained. All the programs listed are currently ongoing and increasing their trained ambassador numbers annually.

Program Name#Ambassadors Trained (To Date)Target GroupsReporting/ Date CollectionYears OperatingArea Serviced
FORC (Seattle)750MFDsNo7City Wide
3Rs (Toronto)180MFDsWaste Audits7City Wide
Eco-Ambassadors (Global Green)5MFDsWaste Audits1Los Angeles/ SF Area
Sustainable DC Ambassadors (Washington,D.C.) 60AllYes (in the past)5 years sustainable SC, 3years ambassador programDC Area
Master Recycler/ Composter (Dakota Country, MN)134AllNo5County Wide
Eco-Leaders (Eco-Cycle Boulder, CO)about 80AllYes2 for Zero waste leader programcity wide
WaterWise Neighborhood Champions (New Orleans, LA). Global Green & Partners. 22AllNo1New Orleans

Some best practices are:

City Leadership:

In both programs in Seattle and Toronto, the city's management themselves supports the resident engagement as the programs are located within the Recycling sectors. By funding opportunities and trainings as well as promotional material that supports both the volunteering and recycling, the city has a stake in the ambassador program and its outcome.

Eco-ambassadors come in pairs:

In both DC and Toronto, the program success is supported by having ambassadors go in groups of 2, and in New Orleans even larger teams are deployed. This approach bolsters a sense of support and can lead to dynamic problem solving if ambassadors are faced with potentially difficult situations.

Trainings

Trainings are a good way of formalizing the program and recruiting participants who come wanting to learn. In these trainings, participants can learn anything from proper waste diversion tactics to how one should inform other residents about the program. With this knowledge, ambassadors are better equipped to enroll the program and answer questions others may have.

Contact us at corr@globalgreen.org if you’re interested in starting eco-ambassador program in your city.


Aliza McHugh