When Ridgeline High freshman Katelyn Cornell asked her grandfather to stop idling his car, he listened.
Ed Stafford, USU marketing professor, calls this the “inconvenient youth effect” and is exactly what he hoped for three years ago when he launched the Cache County High School Clean Air Poster Contest.
Throughout January, 400 high school students from six high schools around Cache Valley will be creating humorous, frightening and thought-provoking posters that advocate reducing air-pollution through behavior like carpooling, riding the bus and refraining from idling.
Each high school will select the five best posters, with the winners receiving $50 in gift cards and merchandise from local businesses like Cache Valley Electric, Caffe Ibis and Youngblood Real Estate. These finalists will have the possibility of winning more prizes, a total of about $2,500, at the county-level competition at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art on Feb. 18. The winning posters will be hung up at various locations around town.
Stafford, who specializes in marketing green energy and previously produced an award-winning film advocating wind energy, has delivered 40-minute presentations on air quality effects and solutions to each art or environmental studies class that participates in the poster contest.
“My expertise is on, how do you frame green messages to appeal to non-green stakeholders?” Stafford said.
Michael Bingham, art teacher at Ridgeline High, said students seem to be more engaged with this art project — and not just because they can win prizes. Several of his students were surprised to learn air pollution is considered a more harmful environmental carcinogen than secondhand smoke.
“They realize it affects them too,” Bingham said.
In his presentations, Stafford explains creative marketing strategies like using parody, humor and emotion to inspire poster ideas.
Brooke Stonehouse, a sophomore at Ridgeline High, made a poster that parodied the Chik-Fil-A slogan. She drew a billboard with “Eat Mor Chikn” crossed out and replaced with “Ride Mor Busses.”
The intent is to target teenagers as they become new drivers. Stafford said when many students get their driver’s license, they stop taking the bus and want to drive themselves everywhere. By teaching students about the effects of idling and driving, these teens start with environmentally minded habits.
“That way they can understand the implications of their new driving privilege,” Stafford said.
Stafford said anecdotal evidence has shown that the campaign has been successful, but he hopes to study the results further, perhaps with in-depth interviews or focus groups.
Zhu Parker, a senior at Logan High and member of the Logan Environmental Action Force, or LEAF Club, said she could have carpooled with her neighbors when she first started driving as a sophomore, but she and her friends enjoyed the freedom of driving. Now that they are seniors, she said they take turns carpooling.
The project isn’t just to persuade students, as research has shown that children and teenagers are very effective in influencing their parents. Stafford recommended taking a look at the number of children in car advertisements. Parents listen to their children because they want to be respected.
“From food that our parents buy to cars,” Stafford said, “children have a significant impact.”
Hence the “inconvenient youth effect,” when kids pester their parents about important issues, like air quality. He likens it to Smokey the Bear, to prevent forest fires, or the Crash Test Dummies, to encourage seat belt use. Both were successful marketing campaigns that targeted children with the idea that the kids would influence their parents.
Elizabeth Hansen, a junior at Logan High and member of the LEAF Club, said she thinks the posters help raise awareness of issues that people might not think about, like adults idling while waiting for their children.
“Every little bit helps,” Hansen said.
Victoria Stafford, a senior at Logan High and member of the LEAF Club, said she thinks the community is slowly but surely becoming more open to sustainability. In a family oriented community like Cache Valley, people are more likely to listen to messages centered around kids’ health.
Also, she has noticed that as a lot of Cache Valley natives stay here and start their own families, the air quality poster program helps cultivate that knowledge and behavior for future generations.
One poster at Logan High referenced the December theft of a doughnut delivery truck that was idling outside of a Logan 7-Eleven.
“Donut idle,” the poster reads. “You might get your car stolen.”
Some students at Ridgeline came up with phrases like, “Clean air no fare; ride the bus,” “If trees die, we die,” and “If you could see, you’d turn the key.”
Stafford said next year Franklin County schools plan to participate, and he hopes to expand the poster competition to other inversion-prone areas along the Wasatch Front.