Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments

Sustainable Transportation for a Sustainable Future

EPA logo

Salt Lake City, Utah

Sustainable Transportation Sustainable Future LogoSustainable Transportation Sustainable Future Logo

Learn about other climate showcase communities.

When confronted with the startling statistic that over 50% of Salt Lake City air pollution results from motor vehicle emissions, the City and its partners set out to reduce these emissions. The City used an EPA Climate Showcase Communities grant to develop Sustainable Transportation for a Sustainable Future to improve existing vehicle travel reduction programs through a comprehensive communication strategy and community-based social marketing. The program consists of three ongoing campaigns:

Clear the Air Challenge is an annual summer competition where individuals and teams compete to reduce vehicle miles driven by using public transit, walking, biking, carpooling, combining car trips, teleworking, or adopting flexible and compressed workweeks.

Idle Free Utah encourages drivers to turn off their engines while parked or idling for more than 10 seconds.

Care to Clear the Air Winter Campaign promotes “winter-friendly” alternative transportation options, including carpooling, public transit, and teleworking.

Building a Collaborative Coalition

Creating community-wide behavioral change requires effective collaboration across a diverse group of partners. The Air Quality Partners Team provided leadership that was key to the success of the program. Mayor Ralph Becker invited individual leaders and organizations to join the Air Quality Partners Team. Getting representatives from all segments of the community, including faith groups, business interests, community environmental and transportation organizations, academic institutions, and all levels of government already active in air quality issues to agree on key messages and target audiences was the biggest challenge at the beginning of the program. The Partners Team tested the “Drive Less, Drive Smarter” message and used existing networks and communication platforms to help publicize the program.

Top of Page

Adopting Community-Based Social Marketing

Salt Lake City used community-based social marketing1 to develop all three campaigns, employing the following strategies:

  • Clean the Air Challenge posterFigure 1: Clear the Air Challenge poster at the 2012 Clear the Air kick-off event.Uncover barriers and benefits. The program surveyed Salt Lake County residents to understand habits, knowledge, and perceived barriers and benefits of alternate transportation. Results informed targeted outreach efforts.
  • Identify target audience and develop effective messages. Messages were developed based on the characteristics and motivations of three target groups: businesses, community groups, and local schools.
  • Obtain clear commitments. Clear the Air Challenge participants registered, set goals, and logged all trip and mileage data on Travelwise Tracker Exit (an online tool). Idle Free Utah schools made verbal commitments and signed pledges to educate parents about idling. The Care to Clear the Air Winter Campaign invited residents to sign up for text alerts and write resolutions.
  • Prompt action. The program used community action posters, window clings, signs, tote bags, buttons, and real-time text alerts to remind participants to take action.
  • Build community norms. The campaigns used website profiles and YouTube videos to share commitments, progress, and motivation.
  • Craft simple, clear messages. The program developed simple and clear messages such as “Drive Less, Drive Smarter,” “Turn your key, be idle free,” and “When you take the Challenge, we all win.”
  • Offer incentives. The Clear the Air Challenge featured weekly and grand prizes sponsored by local businesses such as gift cards, ski passes, soccer tickets, and overnight stays at local hotels and ski resort lodges. The Idle Free Campaign publicly recognized participating schools. The Care to Clear the Air Winter Campaign provided free materials such as tote bags and buttons.

Top of Page

Using a Comprehensive Communication Strategy

Salt Lake City used traditional media (e.g., newspaper, TV, and radio) as well as websites and social media to promote its messages. The Internet provided a platform to continually present fresh content to the target audience and engage them on a regular basis. Salt Lake City conducted on-the-ground community outreach through participant registration drives, gathering spotlight stories, recruiting sustainable transportation champions, and holding conversations with parents idling in school parking lots. Direct peer-to-peer communication proved to be one of the most effective outreach strategies.

Research has shown that messages are most effective when delivered by trusted and well-respected messengers. The program created content such as emails, website buttons, banners, and widgets for the Partners Team to share; and collateral materials such as posters, fact sheets, and buttons for distribution. The program also identified community leaders to serve as role models and invited local reporters to feature spotlight stories of participants who overcame hurdles to choose more sustainable transportation options.

The Clear the Air Challenge adopted a community-centered approach to make events more interesting and well-attended. Initially, the Clear the Air Challenge used a traditional approach for ceremonies, in which speakers wore suits and spoke from a podium. After the initial launch, the project introduced community-engaging events that featured local lifestyle bloggers such as Utah Moms and were held in family-friendly locations with games for kids, such as the local zoo.

Top of Page

Clear the Air resultsFigure 2: Clear the Air results on display during the 2012 Clear the Air Challenge awards ceremony.Tracking Progress and Measuring Success

Salt Lake City used many methods to measure the progress and success of the program. Data included input from TravelWise Tracker (an online tool for individual participants), Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) traffic counts, transit authority data, program participation counts, website traffic, social media interactions, conversations, and parking lot observations. Overall, the program estimated a total annual savings of 5,653 metric tons of CO2, equivalent to the annual emissions of 1,190 passenger vehicles. UDOT data showed that vehicle traffic was reduced, with marked reductions on yellow and red air quality days.

Salt Lake City faced challenges in translating the number of vehicle trips and miles into the amount of emissions reduced. It was also difficult to obtain accurate data because the TravelWise Tracker results are based on self-reported data. The City assumed that 50% of the participants in the Clear the Air Challenge would continue their behavior changes for the rest of the year (11 months), however there are no guarantees.

Expanding and Sustaining the Program

In 2012, Salt Lake City used the Climate Showcase Communities grant to help share the Clear the Air Challenge with other communities in Utah by developing the Sustainable Transportation for a Sustainable Future Toolkit Exit. Utah Clean Cities, a non-profit partner, helped expand Idle Free Utah beyond school parking lots, and an Idle Free Ordinance in Salt Lake City banned unnecessary vehicle idling over two minutes on public property. The Climate Showcase Communities grant helped spur many other air quality initiatives in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake Chamber’s Clean Air Taskforce was established and took over stewardship of the Clear the Air Challenge as the grant came to a close. Other programs that have originated from members of the Air Quality Partners Team include:

  • Salt Lake Chamber’s Clean Air Champions Exit, an initiative to encourage businesses to use alternative transportation;
  • Utah Governor’s Office’s Utah Clean Air Partnership Exit, a statewide partnership to promote action to improve Utah’s air quality;
  • Utah Transit Authority’s Ride Clear Exit, an initiative to promote use of public transit;
  • Salt Lake City’s SmartTrips, a neighborhood-based program that encourages public and active transportation.

Salt Lake Chamber is working to make the Challenge website and TravelWise Tracker tool available to communities that wish to replicate the Clear the Air Challenge.

Top of Page

Ongoing Challenges and Lessons Learned

Participants and the news media showed less interest in the Clear the Air Challenge after the first year. To help sustain awareness, Salt Lake City highlighted new updates to the Challenge, found new resources to spread the message, emphasized the importance of action, researched and used new messages, and identified new target audiences.

To keep the members of Partners Team engaged, Salt Lake City held regular meetings (once a month at the development phase of a campaign, and two to three times a year thereafter), put partners’ logos and web links on the campaign websites, and highlighted their significant roles at public events. The program also made sure that Partners Team members were part of major strategy decisions, kept track of turnover in partner organizations, and invited new staff and new partners as needed, especially when the program expanded to new target audiences. In retrospect, the program may have benefited from encouraging new representatives to join the Partners Team each year to add fresh enthusiasm and perspectives to the program.

Top of Page

Bring Sustainable Transportation for a Sustainable Future to Your Community!

Available Resources: Salt Lake City developed the Sustainable Transportation for a Sustainable Future Toolkit Exitto help other cities and municipalities launch similar programs.

Learn from Similar Climate Showcase Communities Programs:

Top of Page

Contact Information

Sophia Nicholas
(801) 535-7755

1 This concept was developed by Doug McKenzie-Mohr and has been successfully used by many communities worldwide to encourage sustainable behavior change. See McKenzie-Mohr, Doug and William Smith (1999). Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.

Top of Page