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Encouraging citizens to collect free trees

19 January 2021

Tree canopies play a vital role in creating a resilient environment and community. We used behavioural insights to boost an initiative to encourage the community to take up the 'Free Trees Initiative.' This program seeks to increase tree coverage in Western Sydney.

A tree-lined Sydney street.

More tree canopy promotes biodiversity, helps cool our suburbs and improves air quality. Tree canopies can even increase the value of a property. In 2019 the NSW Premier set a Premier’s Priority to plant one million trees by 2022. In 2018, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment also launched the Free Tree Initiative. The Initiative aims to boost tree coverage by providing eligible new households with vouchers to claim up to three free trees from Western Sydney Bunnings stores.

The NSW Behavioural Insights Unit (NSW BIU) partnered with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and Bunnings to encourage take-up of the Free Tree Initiative by applying behavioural insights.

The challenge

To understand the behavioural challenge, the NSW BIU interviewed NSW customers and key stakeholders, analysed existing take-up data, and user-tested the current application portal. Our fieldwork suggested that there were two barriers to take-up:

  1. Low awareness – few people knew about the program, even those who were eligible.
  2. Cumbersome application and redemption process – the customer experience of the application portal was difficult and confusing, deterring people from completing their order.

What we did

1. We tested two message frames

To increase awareness of the initiative, we sent some eligible households a behaviourally-informed postcard. We wanted to find out whether a message promoting the public benefits of tree planting or one that appeals to self-interest would be more effective at encouraging people to apply and redeem the free trees. To test this, we randomly allocated eligible households in two Local Government Areas (LGAs) to be sent one of the following postcards:

Postcard A: Planting a tree framed as a benefit to the public and the environment.

Claim a tree promotion

Postcard B: Planting a tree framed as a benefit to the individual households.

Claim a tree for households

2. We improved the portal experience

To improve the customer experience, we upgraded the application portal to streamline the application and redemption process and make it easier to claim the free trees. To minimise friction, we removed unnecessary steps, gave clear instructions upfront and provided a free-of-charge delivery service (due to COVID-19 restrictions).

The result

Across the three-month pilot period, the postcard and the improved processes led to a 150% increase in free trees being claimed as compared to the two years prior.

When we compared the two postcards, those who received the public benefits message were 2.3 percentage points more likely to submit an application and 1.8 percentage points more likely to redeem their free tree. These results were not statistically significant. These null results in message framing are likely due to the small sample size in the pilot.

While more testing is needed, our results indicate that appealing to the social and environmental benefits can be an effective strategy to boost residential tree cover.

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