Utah High School Clean Air Poster Contest

Professors Edwin Stafford (Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, USU) and Roslynn Brain McCann (USU Extension Sustainability) are working to help improve Utah’s air quality via a statewide high school clean air poster contest including Cache, Carbon, Grand, Salt Lake, and Summit Counties in Utah and Franklin County, ID. Over 400 students are expected to be involved in the contest for the 2019-2020 year.

Building on the contest’s successful launch in Cache Valley in 2015, the expanded contest’s goals are to (1) inform high school teens learning to drive to recognize local air pollution, understand the pollution problems associated with their new driving privilege, and learn driving behaviors that can lessen their personal impact (e.g., refraining from idling, carpooling, trip-chaining, taking the bus, walking, biking, etc.); and (2) have those high school teens create educational outreach posters about how people can reduce their personal impact on local air pollution aimed at their peers and local residents.

Students involved with the contest are educated about Utah’s air pollution problems, its sources, ways to preserve air pollution, and social marketing communication techniques used by marketing professionals for creating memorable, effective public service announcements (e.g., use of parody and humor, call-to-action, rational and emotional appeals, etc.). In essence, the posters integrate environmental science, art, and savvy marketing where the high school students learn about how to craft persuasive clean air social messages that can resonate with their peers and local residents. Many winning posters over the years have been funny, edgy, provocative, and related to teen pop culture and values.

Prizes for the posters have been donated generously by local businesses, the City of Logan, non-profit organizations, and concerned citizens. For 2019, about $2,500 in cash, gift cards, and merchandise was donated and given to students designing winning posters at both the high school and county levels. Winning posters were reprinted and displayed in the media and throughout various communities during inversion season in 2019.

Each high school selected their winning posters by mid-January, 2019, and the top posters engaged in a statewide competition where a panel of prominent judges (representing environmental science, art, and business) selected the Grand Prize winners, announced at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art at USU in Logan, February 2019. Each Grand Prize student winner won a larger cash prize.

Self-reported measures by teens involved in the poster contest indicate that teens perceive to be empowered to make a difference as “change agents.” They report that the contest does educate them about local air pollution and that they are more willing to act on preserving air quality. Some evidence also indicates that they are influencing their parents to engage in preserving air quality as well (in what McCann and Stafford call “the inconvenient youth” effect).

Future plans for the contest involve expanding it to additional counties across Utah.