Brighton & Hove City Council took on a project which many would regard as unsellable: turning the phrase 'sustainable development' into something meaningful - and, in so doing, to bring credibility to its own environmental agenda.
In the run-up to April 2002, when the council was to launch its own sustainability strategy, it ran a campaign called ninelives, attempting to give its residents experience of what sustainability really means to their daily lives. Emphasising that residents were at the heart of the council's strategic thinking, the campaign took nine people who, over nine weeks, tackled challenges based on nine sustainability lifeskills.
Challenges included reducing and recycling waste, improving life/work balance, and reducing car dependence. The nine agreed to video their experiences.
Drawing on the popularity of the 'reality TV' format, clips from these home videos were broadcast on a special website, www.ninelives.tv, which attracted 80,000 hits in the timeframe.
The campaign also exploited the TV 'makeover' format by providing experts on finance, transport and 'green' issues to advise each 'nineliver'. Local journalists ran with the story with enthusiasm.
Media coverage included ten 30-minute features on BBC Radio, 11 double-page spreads in the Argus, and three slots on local TV. At the end of the nine weeks, research showed that a quarter of people in the area knew of the campaign, of whom 95 per cent supported the council's initiative.
Overall, the campaign cost £30,000 although its value was far greater, given the number of organisations in the public and private sectors which partnered the council. These included a vegetarian restaurant, Sussex Careers Service, a local bus company and a designer sale shop which provided 'makeovers' of second-hand clothes.
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