Topic Resources

Tools Used
Initiated By
  • Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
  • Fred Meyer
  • Miller Paint
  • Rodda Paint
  • Sherwin Williams Paint
  • Les Schwab Tire Dealership
  • Walmart
  • Portland General Electric
  • Metro
  • Blockbuster
  • Other local retailers

significant reduction in VOC emissions to qualify Oregon inattainment of EPA's Air Quality Standards by 1997

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Car care tips fact sheet
These fact sheets provided tips for preventing air pollution caused by cars.

Prize draw entry form
Prize draws were used as an incentive to participate in Clean Air Action Days.

Oregon's Air Quality Public Education and Incentive Program

This ongoing program educates the public and provides incentives to improve air quality in Portland. It uses non-regulatory approaches that target vehicles, lawnmowers, paints and certain consumer products - to reduce emissions from Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a US federal government organization, provided environmental standards that all States were required to meet under the Clean Air Act. In 1995, Metropolitan Portland was classified "Nonattainment" for carbon monoxide and ground-level ozone (or smog). Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) initiated the Air Quality Public Education and Incentive Program as part of an overall strategic plan to reduce air pollution, and reach the level of "attainment" by EPA standards. It was piloted over a three-year period from 1995-1998.

The program targeted metropolitan Portland, including employees and businesses, as well as residential areas. In total, approximately 1 million people were targeted to be involved, and close to 500,000 actually were involved in the program in some way. The Air Quality Public Education and Incentive Program was the first of its kind to be federally approved as part of a state implementation program (SIP)for Oregon.

Setting Objectives

The program's objectives were:

  • To positively change behaviours of Portland residents that could result in the reduction of VOC emission.
  • To reduce VOC emissions by 2% permanently by 2006, factoring in population growth.
  • To set measurable targets of participation in each individual program within the Air Quality Public Education and Incentive Program, determining by how much VOC emissions were reduced.

Delivering the Program

The Air Quality Public Education and Incentive Program consisted of several non-regulatory programs operating concurrently. In all cases, programs used community partnerships with businesses for effective delivery (Work Programs that Influence the Home). The partnerships worked because all partners benefited from being involved. Particularly, the businesses benefited by increasing their profile as conscious community members, and all incentives were redeemable only within the partnering businesses, ensuring a certain amount of sales for those partners.

Clean Air Action Days:

DEQ issued Clean Air Action Day air pollution advisories for days when smog levels threatened to reach unhealthy levels, recommending voluntary actions to maintain healthy air for breathing (Building Motivation Over Time). Approximately 400 employers participated in the program by the end of 1997, which increased to over 500 by 1999. Employers participated by promoting pollution prevention ideas to their employees and customers. All participating businesses were eligible to receive incentives to distribute to customers and employees.

Several messages were promoted during Clean Air Action Days. The three primary messages were:

  • reduce driving or use alternatives,
  • reduce aerosol spray use, and
  • don't use gas-powered mowers.

Chevron gas station, Les Schwab Tire Dealership and Fred Meyer (a US retail department and grocery store headquartered in Portland) also assisted on Clean Air Action Days by posting signage and making announcements in stores, alerting customers to the main messages of Clean Air Action Days. The messages promoted included simple things residents could do to reduce air pollution like using non-aerosol sprays or not using a gas-powered mower that day. Starting in the summer of 1997, Walmart discount department stores aired 60-second "radio" spots on the hour, which suggested simple "car smart" ideas, such as keeping cars tuned and tires properly inflated. Six auto dealers participated in two television commercials that aired on cable. Again, the spots featured the auto dealership managers and owners highlighting simple car smart ideas, like carpooling, combining errands, and even buying new cars that were lower in emissions (Mass Media).

The Portland Business Journal recognized employers by providing a complimentary full-page ad for their business at the end of each ozone season. Employers also received a certificate from the Governor of Oregon thanking them for participating.

Nonwork Trips:

In partnership with Portland General Electric (PGE) and Blockbuster Video, this program targeted residents to reduce nonwork trips during summer ozone season. Coupons/pledge forms (Obtaining a Commitment) were sent to 600, 000 PGE customers, asking them to fill the card pledging to use an alternative to driving alone to their local Blockbuster Video store. Each customer that followed through during the month of July received $1 off any Blockbuster rental for that trip (Financial Incentives and Disincentives).

Another initiative instituted a carsharing program--effectively a short-term auto rental in a neighbourhood setting. This member organization allowed individuals to pay for only how much they drove (mileage and time) (Overcoming Specific Barriers). Cars were located within a several block walk from members. DEQ provided funding to help the program get on its feet.

Consumer Products:

In partnership with Fred Meyer, the program promoted the sale of products that were low in VOC emissions and therefore contributed to producing cleaner air. Fred Meyer agreed to general signage, announcements, "bag" art on grocery sacks and buttons for store personnel that gave customers simple suggestions about how to keep the air clean, such as using non-aerosol spray, or keeping car tires inflated. The program also displayed environmental information for certain products on shelves, such as hair spray and paint, encouraging customers to choose the products that were lower in VOC emissions (Prompts).

As an example, Miller Paint's zero VOC paint was featured as a promotional item in all Portland and Vancouver stores in 1998 through advertisements in the newspaper, and sold at a discounted price to promote its purchase.

Lawn mower buy-back:

Portland General Electric (PGE), DEQ, and Metro (Portland region solid waste agency) sponsored a gasoline lawn mower buy-back program throughout the summer months. The program was designed to encourage local residents to give up a working gas mower in exchange for an electric or push mower, thereby reducing VOC emissions. Residents were offered financial incentives (Financial Incentives and Disincentives) if they brought in their working gas mower to a Metro transfer station; in exchange for the working gas mower, residents would receive either a $50 rebate on electric mowers, or a $15 rebate on push mowers. PGE supported the program financially through providing the rebates to consumers.

In the first year of the program, the rebate was limited to two Black and Decker models and one Husqvarna model; however, in the second year the rebate was applicable to all types of electric and push mowers, and the program was more successful.

The lawn mower buyback program was advertised and promoted through "stuffers", which were advertisements included in Portland General Electric's bills to residents. In addition, television public service announcements were used to promote the program, as well as posters in local stores, print advertisements, weekend promotions at the home renovation store Home Depot and local neighborhood events. One example of these promotions was a "lawn mower-a-thon" held in a Southeast neighbourhood intersection, that tested several different kinds of lawn mowers and promoted using an electric or push mower instead of a gas-powered mower (Vivid, Personalized Communication).

Paint Partnership:

Pollution Prevention partnerships were formed with three paint manufacturers (Rodda Paint, Miller Paint, and Sherwin-Williams Paint). The three businesses submitted documentation to DEQ of the specific products having lower VOC emissions. The low-VOC paints were promoted to the general public in the manufacturers' advertising. In 1998, Miller Paint took promoting the program one step further and donated coupons worth 30% off the purchase of Miller Paints that were low in VOC emissions (Financial Incentives and Disincentives). The coupons were distributed to all participating Clean Air Action Day employers, redeemable at all Fred Meyer retail department stores in the Portland area.

Financing the Program

The exact budget of the program was difficult to estimate, because it relied very heavily on community partnerships and in-kind donations from partnering businesses (for example, Portland General Electric provided a subsidy of $20, 000 towards lawn mower rebates). The DEQ paid for the salary of a full-time Project Manager of the Air Quality Environmental Public Education and Incentive Program and the EPA also provided some grants for several of the programs running within the whole program. In total, the program ran with a budget estimated at $US 250,000 per year.

Measuring Achievements

Baseline and follow-up surveys helped identify improvements in behaviour changes among residents, especially regarding gas-powered lawn mowers. The baseline survey, delivered to random households over the telephone, asked questions regarding their consumer spending habits, their use of automobiles and lawn mowers, and their awareness of air quality issues in the Portland metro area. The follow-up survey asked similar questions, as well as asking about residents' awareness of the programs in the Air Quality Environmental Public Education and Incentive Program.

Results were measured prior to ozone season in 1996 and in September 1997. Results continued to be measured biannually until 2005 to determine the sustainability of participants' behaviour changes.


It was difficult for the DEQ to provide feedback to residents; although there was a correlational decrease in air pollution from the inception of the Public Education and Incentive Program, organizers could not accurately claim that the program directly caused the decrease in air pollution.

However, the DEQ did issue a press release with the successful results of a 1997 EPA evaluation, as well as advertising relative successes in the newspaper to Clean Air Action Day partners.


At the end of 1998, Oregon was recategorized as "in attainment" for both carbon monoxide and ozone. Within the first two years, an increased numbers of residents used alternatives to single-person commuting, and more people were aware of the dangers of using gas-powered mowers and aerosol sprays, although actual usage did not decline significantly. Awareness of Clean Air Action Days increased from one-third to almost one-half of Portland residents.

At least a million people were contacted during the course of the program, through mass media, bill stuffers and business programs. For the Clean Air Action Day, approximately 500 employers participated, and over 100,000 employees participated.

Nonwork Trips

Surprisingly, the car sharing program did not result in lower Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as was projected. Rather, program organizers found that participants got involved in the program as a way of delaying the purchase of a car, or because they were selling their car.

Consumer products and paint product sales were also intended to be measured as an indicator of behaviour change and reduction in VOC emissions; however, asisde from regulated products, no measurable sales increased were noted. Beyond the specific program measurements, program organizers were unable to attribute all low VOC product sales to the Public Education and Incentive program. However, sales generally increased for the zero VOC paint, and several of the paint manufacturers stopped manufacturing paints with high VOC emissions.

Lawn mower Buy Back Program

In 1995, only 144 mowers were scrapped, but by the second year, 481 mowers were turned in. Years 3 and 4 yielded 500 lawn mowers each - the maximum that funding allowed. The program continued to be successful, but ended in 2000, as Portland General Electric decided not to continue funding.

The long-term effects of the program were unknown when this case study was written, although DEQ planned to measure citizen behaviour until 2005 to determine the sustainability of the programs offered. By 2000, over half of Portland residents knew what Clean Air Action Day was, what the main messages were, and what measures needed to be taken when an advisory was issued for a Clean Air Action Day.


For information on past or current programs:

Nina DeConcini
Manager, Communication and Outreach
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
811 SW 6th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
phone: (503) 229-6788
fax: (503) 229-5675

Car Sharing Program website:

This case study was written by Deanna Yerichuk. Based out of Toronto, Canada, Deanna writes and edits content for new media projects. She is always looking for opportunities to apply her extensive experience in community development and communications. Contact Deanna by e-mail:

Funding for the addition of this case study was generously provided by the Government of Canadas Climate Change Action Fund, Suncor, Syncrude, Enbridge Consumers Gas and TetraPak Canada.


Key lessons learned:

Sustainable change can only happen over a long period of time--do not expect too much too quickly.

Cultivating relationships and partnerships with the private sector is key to a successful program. These relationships build more messengers to relate the message to a greater number of people in a variety of venues.

In cultivating relationships with businesses, the organization must figure out how a partnership works in the self-interest of the business and promote that. In essence, the organization must present businesses with a win-win situation.

DEQ's experience was that no one communications tools was necessarily more powerful than another, and instead felt that the combination of many tools together was what made the program so effective. For example, a person could hear an ad on their way to work, have information given to them by their employer, receive their gas bill with an incentive coupon, and see an ad on the TV. The same message repeated in different venues created a strong foundation for knowledge of, and participation in, the programs.

Although the combined power of all tools was most effective, of the marketing methods used, the single most effective was implementing direct financial incentives. People were much more willing to scrap their lawn mowers if they knew they would receive a $50 coupon for an electric mower or push mower.

Last updated: July 2004

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