Environmental issues

Water quality

Waverley Council - effective environmental education

logo: effective stormwater education case studies


image: Drain is just for rain logo

Working with the community and small business1


Waverley Council is a highly urbanised beach area in eastern Sydney, catering for residents and commercial businesses and the recreational needs of a large local, regional and international population. Its beaches attract heavy crowds during the summer and, as a result, significant pollution problems reduce the amenity of the area for residents and visitors.

The Effective Environmental Education Project measured the changes that occurred in the attitudes, values, knowledge and behaviour of people as a result of innovative and localised environmental education campaigns. The significance of this project was that it:

  • established a particular before and after approach towards developing educational activities, identifying key campaign messages and assessing their effectiveness in people's changing attitudes, values, knowledge and behaviour
  • resulted in a series of highly targeted educational resources specific to local catchment areas and was informed by community values and knowledge within the catchments
  • measured impacts which went beyond environmental attitudes and knowledge, into changes in behaviour
  • provided evidence to assess the relative usefulness, benefits and costs associated with different pollution prevention activities.

The project designed, conducted and evaluated educational interventions across four sub-catchments in the Waverley local government area (LGA).

Map: Waverley local government area

Waverley local government area

It sought to improve the quality of water at the local beaches in Waverley and the Centennial Park ponds.

The project employed social research, environmental science, marketing and engineering expertise to develop and guide a range of educational strategies to positively impact on people's behaviours to reduce stormwater pollution.

This project established and measured the value of nonstructural or source control solutions to stormwater pollution. It identified and analysed the relationships that exist between environmental values, attitudes, knowledge and behaviour, and it demonstrated what worked, what did not work and how these approaches could be applied elsewhere.

Where was the project?

Four stormwater sub-catchments were selected across the Waverley LGA. They were in the suburbs of Dover Heights, North Bronte, Charing Cross, and Bondi. They were chosen because they had:

  • clearly defined stormwater catchments
  • different land uses (residential and commercial)
  • demographic characteristics that were representative of the Waverley LGA overall.

Why this approach? What did the project involve?

The project was divided into three broad components:

  1. Development, implementation and evaluation of targeted stormwater education campaigns.

This relied on comprehensive before and after intervention social surveys to identify behaviours which contributed to stormwater pollution.

  1. Installation of a gross pollution control device at the end of three catchments in Dover Heights, North Bronte and South Tamarama. (Diamond Bay, North Bronte and Bondi/Tamarama subcatchments).

image: Greetings from Bronte postcard - identifying the catchment and where stormwater goes

'Greetings from Bronte' postcard – identifying the catchment and where stormwater goes

A gross pollution trap (GPT) was already installed in Charing Cross sub-catchment. The contents of the GPTs were collected to identify the sources and types of pollution in each sub-catchment.

  1. Physical and observational monitoring of pollutants and behaviours within the catchments.

This involved a range of techniques, including:

  1. detailed observations to inform the design of the campaigns and to measure their effectiveness
  2. the development and application of observational monitoring techniques to catchment issues and polluting behaviours
  3. street vacuuming to quantify and analyse contaminant loads on road surfaces.

What did this approach aim to achieve?

  1. To develop an evidence base (pollutants and behaviours) about stormwater pollution in the four sub-catchments
  2. To identify key campaign messages, content and strategies that would be effective in each sub-catchment
  3. To demonstrate changes over time
  4. To establish to what extent these were the result of the education interventions.

How was it done?

The project involved extensive social research, physical monitoring and visual audits. One sub-catchment was nominated as a control site – that is, an area where no educational activities were conducted.

Household surveys and surveys with small businesses were conducted. Physical and behavioural monitoring tools (audits), and protocols (e.g. information for workers, letter  identifying worker and letter to businesses) were developed and systematic observations of resident, business and council activities that impact on stormwater pollution were made.

The use of a control site allowed the project to demonstrate specific changes. While it is possible to measure changes across all areas, it is not possible to know what changes have resulted from which educational intervention. A control site allows you to compare the degree of changes between 'control' and 'intervention' sites.

It involved selecting four areas or subcatchments, one of which represented the characteristics of the other three, to become the control site.

The control site for both residential and commercial campaigns (that is, the area where no campaigns were conducted) was Bondi.

Residential educational campaigns were conducted in Dover Heights and North Bronte, and the commercial educational campaign was run in Charing Cross.

This was the basis of the pre- and post-test (before and after) control and intervention site project design.

image: 'Is your car dangerous?' postcard

Postcard developed for Bronte and Dover Heights

What was done with the information?

The results of the monitoring and social research activities were used to design the educational campaigns.

Other information that was used included:

  • community demographic characteristics – including gender, building type, dwelling type and catchment. These were identified as key factors affecting behaviour and attitudes
  • a profile of businesses – the types of small businesses, owner-operators, and practices that contributed to stormwater pollution
  • the perceived and actual causes of pollution – so that the campaign messages could be designed to start with perceptions and then provide feedback on the actual causes
  • important community attitudes and values – as these are key triggers to motivate changes in knowledge and behaviour
  • finding out how people prefer to receive campaign messages – to understand the best way to communicate with people.

Working with the community – the residential campaigns

Each catchment reflected different demographic profiles. For example:

  • in North Bronte there were higher proportions of young families, people aged over 65, retirees and self-funded residents
  • units and apartment buildings were more numerous in Dover Heights
  • approximately 45% of residents in the Dover Heights Catchment employed a gardener
  • residents in Dover Heights nominated directly addressed mail as their preferred method of receiving information about water quality issues
  • residents in Bronte preferred television and local media, followed by directly addressed letters. Women in Bronte particularly identified community events as effective methods of community education.
  • people in Bronte rated the pollution of beaches and other waterways as more important than did the people in Diamond Bay and Bondi, where litter and dumped rubbish was a significant issue of concern
  • when people talked about their environment, in Bronte they said that it was leafy, green and untidy, while in Dover heights they said it was neat and tidy.

All of these influenced what was done

This approach reflects a 'social learning' model.

Social learning involves developing community ownership of issues by providing positive feedback on current practices, knowledge and values as well as informing them of relevant changes they could make.

image: The 'Read Street leaf sweep' at the 'Keeping it off the streets!' party

The 'Read Street Leaf Sweep', at the Keeping It Off the Streets! party

The community education campaigns included:

Working with small business – the commercial campaign

Charing Cross has a typical range of small businesses in a shopping area strip. They include food, retail, hardware, restaurants and laundromats.

In the 62 businesses selected for the campaign, there were five different languages spoken and the operators of the businesses were mostly non resident in the catchment. It was initially very difficult to get them involved in the project.

Different approaches were tried before one that worked was found. This was based on the pre-test surveys, observational audits, and talking with businesses. The approach included using Thai and Mandarin-speaking interviewers and providing translated supporting material.

image: 'Is the leaf blower dangerous?' postcard

Postcard developed for gardeners working in Dover Heights

The commercial campaign concentrated on a series of small-scale activities, including:

The focus was to tell businesses that their customers were concerned about environmental outcomes and it therefore made good business sense to demonstrate positive environmental behaviour.

Graphics and non-text based materials were used as well as directly addressed letters.  Business relationships with customers and their role in the local community was emphasised .

The campaign was supported by a series of walk-around visits to local businesses, accompanied by representatives from the council.

The council also initiated a regulatory approach with three targeted audits and an awards system for positive practices.

image: 'Is this butt dangerous?' postcard

Postcard designed as a free give-away, displayed in Charing Cross shops

The street party in Bronte was linked by involving two businesses in the event. This provided very positive reinforcement for their appreciation of the environmental values of their customers.

Media activity

Media activity was kept to an absolute minimum during the education campaign, to avoid affecting the Bondi control site.

What did the project achieve?

The result of both educational campaigns showed that:

  • there were positive changes in people's environmental attitudes and values
  • people's knowledge about urban stormwater pollution increased
  • there were positive changes in environmental behaviour.

The residential campaign

  • Levels of knowledge increased across each of the study areas.
  • The educational campaigns resulted in positive changes and improvements in environmental practice.
  • The Bronte street party was described as particularly effective because it emphasised community relationships, social norms and neighbourhood responses. This encouraged residents to engage with the educational messages.

Recall of the community educational campaigns was positive

  • The catchment-specific postcards were remembered as visually striking and very effective and provided practical advice that people could relate to.
  • The campaigns were reported as effective because they educated people, they were locally targeted, and they influenced people to change their behaviour.

The commercial campaign

  • Businesses in Charing Cross became significantly more concerned about the impact they had on the environment, than did those in Bondi (where no campaign was conducted).
  • Charing Cross businesses also became significantly more willing to change business practices to help improve water quality.
  • After the campaign, 91% of businesses in Charing Cross correctly identified stormwater pollutants, compared with 70% in Bondi.
  • After the educational campaign, 41% of businesses reported changing their behaviour. These changes involved practices targeted in campaign messages, such as sweeping up (not hosing down), using appropriate wash bays and bunded areas, and using appropriate waste and water disposal methods.
  • Businesses in Charing Cross reported the most effective parts of the campaign were the personal contact and visits, the posters and directly-addressed letters.

What was learnt from this project?

A full report of the project, the communications strategy and profile of key findings are available for reference. 

Some of the lessons learnt from this project were:

  • the critical importance of knowing the target audience, how to direct educational strategies and identify campaign messages
  • physical monitoring activities form the content of the educational interventions, but they cannot be used to measure the impacts of the educational campaigns.
  • the design, implementation and evaluation of the educational campaigns across the three catchments cost less than one of the three GPTs that were installed as part of the project
  • the maintenance of environmental education is important, and the cost of maintaining the education in the three catchments costs less than the maintenance of the GPTs
  • that well designed and carefully targeted environmental education is more cost effective in the short and long term than the installation of GPTs
  • the importance of evaluation – measuring what we did and how and what changed in terms of environmental knowledge, attitudes, values and behaviour.

Practices around home and garden, targeted in education 

Before %

After %


Regularly pick up leaf litter/grass clippings



+ 5.7

Routinely clear leaves and other debris from street gutters



+ 20.2

Compost leaf litter/grass clippings



+ 6.8

Regularly hose down cement areas



- 7.4


Examples of resources used in the project

Catchment maps




Full report (ednreport.pdf 31 kb)

Communications strategy (comstrategy.pdf 176 kb)

Profile of key findings (presentation.pdf 609 kb)

Education campaign



Street event

Keeping it off the streets! Evaluation sheet (doorknock.pdf 6 kb)

Invitation to Bronte street party (eventinvite.pdf 71 kb)

PowerPoint summary presentation

Provided as pdf (presentation.pdf 609 kb)


Further information

Contact Waverley Council on (02) 9369 8000.

See related case study: Bronte catchment - Citizens' Jury

Stage 2 grant details

1 The Effective Environmental Education Project was a joint Waverley Council and UNSW initiative. It was designed and developed by the School of Social Science and Policy at UNSW.

Page last updated: 26 February 2011