Visual mapping to create public awareness and pressure for policy change

The Greenpeace Lebanon office mapped environmental violations along the country’s coast in order to educate the general public about the problem of toxic industrial waste and to pressure the government to institute policies to remedy the problem.

The group generated huge public interest in the environmental condition of the Lebanon coastline by traveling to a new site each week in an inflatable boat, focusing its efforts on the coastline’s most heavily populated and used areas. It highlighted the most egregious environmental problems at each site by using Geographical Information System (GIS) software to produce a map of testing results. The public followed the progress of the Greenpeace boat on TV, in newspapers, on the group’s website or even along the beach front, where maps were posted during testing. The boat’s weekly progress generated a great deal of interest and even suspense: What would they find, people wondered, at the next site? By the end of the campaign, the map itself was a graphic illustration of the toxic sites and of the extent of environmental problems all along the coast.

Greenpeace used several other tactics in combination with the mapping project. Members lobbied politicians, government agencies, residents and business owners along the coast. One staff member was assigned to keep the media informed and interested and ensure that coverage was timed to maintain public interest. The group also attracted attention with radio spots, fact sheets, huge mobile posters and an animated television spot that illustrated the long-term effects of pollutants.

The public awareness generated by the campaign helped pass Law #444, an environmental code that included the right to access information.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

No matter what audience you are trying to reach, visual representations of the problem you are addressing can be a very strong asset. Greenpeace Lebanon effectively used mapping to illustrate environmental hazards along Lebanon’s coast.

Greenpeace Lebanon turned dry, technical information into a compelling picture — making facts understand­able to members of the public while attracting and holding their interest in its work, and at the same time moving them to take action to remedy the problem. The problem of environmental violations had been largely hidden, so that the people affected weren’t even aware of the abuse. By revealing it, Greenpeace created a new constituency to work against it. The key to this success — the raised awareness and the passage of the new law — was strong outreach and media coverage to highlight the mapping effort as the group also lobbied for spe­cific policy changes.

GIS mapping is being used to illustrate and combat other human rights problems, such as sex trafficking. It could also be used to show reported incidents of torture at police precincts, illustrate widespread poverty by describing average household incomes in an area, or portray access (or lack of access) to vital services by showing the locations of wells, hospitals or schools to illustrate access. When we can see the extent of a problem, we are better equipped to respond to it.