IV. Case Study IV: P-Free for Lake Ripley

CPB Self-Study Module
STEP 4. Collect audience information relevant to the environmental practice and specific behaviors


III. What methodologies or technologies are available for exploring the social dimensions of a particular environmental concern?


Using social assessment tools

Case Study IV: P-Free for Lake Ripley

P-Free for Lake Ripley is a community-based social marketing (CBSM) project. CBSM projects combine traditional public education programs with behavioral psychology and marketing techniques. The objective of this effort is to create a program that would increase the water quality of Lake Ripley, a recreational water body in Jefferson County, Wisconsin. Water quality may potentially be enhanced in a variety of ways, but this specific project focuses on reducing the prevalent use of phosphorus-containing fertilizer on property owners’ lawns and gardens and increasing usage of phosphorus-free (P-Free) fertilizer. The excess phosphorus in Lake Ripley could potentially lead to frequent algae blooms, reduced fish populations, and a degraded water supply.

CBSM projects contain a specific formula of activities to design a project that will enhance the benefits of a desired behavior while minimizing the barriers to its performance. After initial individual research, class discussions, and interviews with Lake Ripley Management District personnel, the group elected to design a project to make the use of phosphorus-free fertilizer more attractive to lawn caretakers and gardeners, thereby reducing the use of phosphorus-laden fertilizers around Lake Ripley and nutrient loading in the lake.

To supplement this research, focus groups were conducted in March 2007. In the focus groups, residents of the community were asked about their fertilizing habits, knowledge of water-quality issues and fertilizer nutrients, barriers to phosphorus-free fertilizer use, and benefits of phosphorus-free fertilizer. Participants for the focus group were reached through phone calls and were randomly selected from a mailing list provided by the Lake Ripley Watershed Management District. Potential participants were asked a series of qualifying questions, from ownership of their residence and residency status (full or part time) to lawn maintenance and fertilization habits. Residents willing to participate in the focus group were then asked for contact information and given a confirmation phone call one day prior to the focus group meeting.

The turnout for the focus group consisted of five residents. Despite the relatively small size of the group, it was diverse in several characteristics. There were lakefront owners as well as residents living further away from the lake. The group included users of both fertilizer and “weed and feed” products, which were applied either by residents themselves or a lawn care service. Of the five individuals, four were male, one was female, and all had been residents of the town for at least three years.

During the meeting, ground rules were posted and addressed after introductions were made. Rules included: turn off your cell phone, be respectful, do not interrupt, be concise, listen to others, and use “I” statements. The last ground rule made it clear that participants should speak for themselves and from personal experience, rather than making assumptions from what they had heard elsewhere. The focus group meeting lasted approximately one hour. Forty minutes were devoted to the focus group questions.

The following questions were asked:

  • What kind of fertilizer do you use?
  • What factors go into your decision to buy a particular brand or type of fertilizer? How do the factors affect your purchasing decision?
  • Do you think applying fertilizer to your lawn affects the water quality of Lake Ripley? How?
  • What are the top three obstacles to you making a change of the fertilizer you currently use to a fertilizer that does not contain phosphorus?
  • If you don’t currently use zero-phosphorus products, what would get you to think about switching?
  • Would you be willing to place a sign in your yard to identify that you use phosphorus-free fertilizer?

Participants were also given a chance to address any issues and questions after the focus group questions were asked and discussed.

A written survey was created to supplement insights from the focus group. Considering the information on the barriers and benefits gleaned from the focus groups and research, the next step was to design tools that could be targeted at reducing specific barriers to using P-free fertilizer and increasing the perceived benefits to using P-free fertilizer. Tools selected for this project consist of incentives to encourage phosphorus-free fertilizer use, establishing norms within the community of phosphorus-free fertilizer use, prompts to remind individuals of this choice, and gaining community members’ commitments to action.



This Case Study is courtesy of Rick Chenoweth, University of Wisconsin Professor of Social Psychology, Department of Landscape Architecture, and authors: Elizabeth Fogarty, Joan Huston, Rebeccah Maskin, Bridgit Van Belleghem, Sue Vang. 2007. Phosphorus Free for Lake Ripley. Community-based social marketing program to use phosphorus-free lawn fertilizer.