Utah opened an unwelcome holiday surprise for the fireplace and woodstove industry in mid-December 2014 when that state’s governor proposed a prohibition on all winter-time woodburning in Salt Lake City and six surrounding counties. This sweeping proposal – which would have outlawed even low-emission hearth products certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – was on a fast track with seven public hearings planned for the first few weeks of 2015 and a decision expected in February.
The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) recognized this draconian rule as a major threat that would deter Utahns from upgrading to more environmentally responsible hearth products and would punish those customers who had already invested in cleaner technology. With no time to spare, HPBA engaged Stratacomm, the association’s long-time communications partner, to quickly raise customer awareness of the ban and mobilize a grassroots movement supporting a more reasonable alternative.
Stratacomm leapt into action over the holidays focusing on three immediate priorities: 1) opinion research, 2) digital advocacy infrastructure, and 3) on-the-ground support.
From a survey our team designed and fielded, we learned that support for the ban was stronger than expected and activating core supporters would be key to turn the tide in HPBA’s favor. Message testing also revealed the need to re-frame the issue as a question of personal responsibility and individual rights appealing to the local values of self-determination and community stewardship. Informed by this research, Stratacomm helped HPBA craft a position that avoided extremist messaging and offered a reasonable voice for citizens and businesses who support both cleaner air and responsible home-heating solutions.
On a parallel track, Stratacomm developed an advocacy website and supporting digital campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that launched in early January and quickly became the hub of grassroots efforts supported by Utahns for Responsible Burning. Leveraging the customer lists of HPBA members along with targeted social media advertising and word of mouth, we rallied citizens to participate in the campaign. Stratacomm identified and managed a local media relations partner who also helped spread the word through media outreach, targeted reporter briefings and onsite support at public hearings.
Highlights from this campaign included:
- More than 2,000 attendees packed seven public hearings, with the crowd overwhelmingly opposed to the woodburning ban
- Nearly 100 news articles and local TV segments generating more than 25 million media impressions
- More than 3,500 petition signatures supporting responsible burning in less than a month
- Over 50 letters to the editor submitted to local news outlets and hundreds of e-mails sent to the Governor and his Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)
- A grassroots army that consisted of over 3,000 new subscribers to the campaign e-mail list, 2,500 followers on social media and 25,000 unique visits to the website during its first four weeks online
The public outcry forced Utah DEQ to table the Governor’s wood-burning ban. Moreover, the state legislature went an extra step and overwhelmingly passed legislation forbidding Utah regulators from imposing a winter-long burning ban in the future. Just three short months after our campaign launch, the same Governor who originally proposed to outlaw woodburning in Utah sealed the victory for advocates of responsible burning by signing this bill into law on March 31, 2015.