Eco Action: A Government Agency Exhibits at the Minnesota State Fair to Promote Environmentally Sustainable Activities to the Public

By Gustafson, Laurie | Communication World, November-December 2007 | Go to article overview

Eco Action: A Government Agency Exhibits at the Minnesota State Fair to Promote Environmentally Sustainable Activities to the Public


Gustafson, Laurie, Communication World


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Dealing with today's environmental problems demands a new approach that includes assistance and education to help individuals and businesses address environmental issues before they get out of hand. That's the mission of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the state agency that works with Minnesotans to protect, conserve and improve the environment and enhance quality of life. Research has shown that an environmentally literate population makes informed choices that have a positive impact on the environment.

Looking for a way to reach more people with its message about environmentally sustainable activities, MPCA educator Jeff Ledermann approached the organizers of the Minnesota State Fair, an event held in St. Paul in late August through early September that draws more than 1.7 million visitors every year. He proposed an idea for a comprehensive exhibit that would demonstrate new approaches to protecting the environment and offer resources on a range of environmental topics, such as renewable energy, organic agriculture, transportation, green home building, gardening and recycling. Fair managers were interested and in February 2006 presented the MPCA with 25,000 square feet of exhibit space in the Progress Center building for that year's fair.

MPCA leaders saw the proposed exhibit, named Eco Experience, as an opportunity to solidify community partnerships while presenting environmental messages to a broad cross-section of the state's population. The fair organizers stipulated that the MPCA exhibit be for educational purposes only--no products or services could be sold. Eco Experience also gave the MPCA a chance to further develop its new brand, which emphasizes education, outreach and prevention instead of regulation and enforcement. Internally, the Eco Experience offered MPCA employees active roles in a positive, high-profile project that promoted staff engagement.

Goals and objectives

The goals of the Eco Experience communication plan were to:

* Work with partners to communicate key environmental messages and opportunities to inspire Minnesotans to take responsibility for protecting the environment.

* Work toward changing the environmental behaviors of as many fairgoers as possible by encouraging them to make commitments to take environmentally beneficial actions.

* Present an image of the MPCA that is high-tech, effective, efficient and responsive to stakeholders, and disseminate important agency information.

* Generate staff interest about, and involvement in, a shared outreach project.

Solution and implementation

The MPCA had six months to develop a plan and implement it. As project manager, Jeff Ledermann assembled a team and a budget. The team met weekly to coordinate and communicate progress.

The first task was to line up exhibitors. The MPCA targeted organizations that represented associations or larger groups of organizations that had the connections and resources to manage a specific topical area. With support and guidance from the MPCA, those partners were empowered to design, develop and coordinate their topical area. After the exhibitors were chosen, representatives from each partner organization met as a group with fair officials three times during the summer. …

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