Waking up to resource efficiency


The European Commission’s Generation Awake campaign concluded this year after four years of engaging Europeans with upbeat messages on how to become more sustainable consumers and save natural resources. The campaign won a media industry award for its interactive house website and videos, which were viewed 10 million times.

Did you get to meet Impulse Inga, the shopaholic, and Water Maniac Walter, who panicked when taps were left running? Millions of Europeans did over the past four years. Along with Routine Robbie, Chubby Charlie and Richard Rubbish, these animated characters brought the Commission’s Generation Awake campaign to life, raising awareness about resource efficiency between 2011 to early 2015.

The campaign’s video clips were viewed 10 million times; 140 000 people joined its Facebook group and over 2000 media articles were published about the campaign. It also garnered professional accolades, winning the Gold Dolphin at the 5th Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards 2014, and was shortlisted for two others: the European Excellence Awards and Digital Awards.

As well as starring in three video clips, the characters appeared on the Generation Awake website, where an interactive house and consumption guide detailed the environmental impacts of everyday habits and buying choices, and offered tips on how to preserve natural resources.

The campaign reached out to 25- to 40-year-olds, with a focus on young urban adults (identified as most open and receptive to environmental behavioural change), and families with small children (the biggest consumers but who are also keen to work towards a better quality of life for their families).

Its preparations began in parallel with the work of the European Commission’s taskforce on the Roadmap to a Resource-Efficient Europe, which was published in December 2011. One of the campaign's aims was to show that resource efficiency is not just the responsibility of business and industry. Companies do need to change the way they collect and process raw materials, manufacture products and manage waste, but, at the same time, we can all play a part through what and how we choose to buy.

The campaign showed that saving resources does not necessarily mean consuming less, but rather consuming differently to reduce our impact on the planet. By becoming responsible consumers, we can still enjoy a good quality of life, and that quality of life will be far more sustainable if we all use resources more efficiently.

Successful tactics

Each of the three phases focused on reaching the target audience in four European countries, chosen to reflect a balance of geographical situation and size of Member States. The campaign included advertisements in print and online media, media articles and press packs, and events, competitions and a partner support network to spread the word about Generation Awake. The Commission monitored progress each month and redirected resources and adapted tools accordingly.

As a result, the campaign evolved progressively. It started in 2011 with a focus on the sustainable use of natural resources, with the characters Impulse Inga, Chubby Charlie and Routine Robbie. In 2012, it introduced the theme of water efficiency with Water Maniac Walter, also covering hidden water consumption, such as the volumes required to produce hamburgers and jeans, for example. Finally, in 2014, it introduced the ‘waste room’, where Richard Rubbish encouraged us to see unavoidable waste as a resource that can be reused or recycled.

At the end of the campaign, the Commission organised an evaluation by independent consultants, who conducted an online survey, focus groups, expert interviews, including with behavioural scientists, and an online review.

According to the report, Generation Awake has succeeded in making the topic accessible to a wide audience, and the videos were highly appreciated, as were the tone and tools used on the website. “The visual design of Generation Awake campaign tools is very professional and appreciated by target audiences, in particular in Eastern and Southern Europe. The campaign design also attracts children and youth.”

The report found that the people who engaged with the campaign tended to be largely eco-conscious at the start. Nevertheless, they did change their behaviour as a result: “Positively, reaching such audiences could encourage them to learn more and act as relays.”

The conclusion was that Generation Awake raised awareness about resource efficiency as far as “can be expected for campaigns of this scale”. The campaign reached 6 % of the EU population, i.e. approximately 30 million people – an impressive share of the potential target audience.

From resource efficiency to the circular economy

Building on the interest in resource efficiency from business and the wider public, the Commission is now planning an initiative to create conditions for the development of a circular economy. By maintaining the value of the material and energy used in products longer and by minimising waste and resource use, the circular economy stimulates competitiveness and innovation while contributing to a high level of protection for human health and the environment. It can also provide consumers with more durable and innovative products that increase quality of life and generate savings. The initiative is due to be adopted towards the end of 2015.


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