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WSU’s Green Times- Organic Ads, Compost, Poplars

Posted by | November 13, 2013

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Study Offers Tips for Green Advertising Strategists

Predicting whether consumers will purchase organic or conventional food is a multimillion-dollar gamble within the food sector. A novel paper by Washington State University College of Business researchers will help advertisers more effectively target the fast-growing organic food market.

“We propose that organic purchases are not just made with the intention of benefiting one’s self,” said lead author Ioannis Kareklas, a WSU marketing assistant professor. “Our paper provides evidence that advertising that highlights and addresses both personal (egoistic) and environmental (altruistic) concerns in tandem may be the most impactful in influencing consumer attitudes toward and intentions to purchase organic products.”

A WSU student works on an organic farm. Photo by Shelly Hanks/WSU Photo Services.
A WSU student works on an organic farm. Photo by Shelly Hanks/WSU Photo Services.

The paper is the first in the United States to explore the relative impact of both considerations simultaneously in relation to self-perception. Co-authors include Darrel Muehling, WSU marketing professor, and Jeffrey Carlson, University of Connecticut doctoral student.

Personal values affect advertisement success

Research has already shown that promotional messages tend to be evaluated more favorably when they are consistent with consumers’ values, said Kareklas. For example, “independent” Western cultures that tend to emphasize autonomy and individualism respond more favorably to ads that emphasize personal (individual) well-being. Consumers from “interdependent” cultures, such as East Asian and Latin American countries, prefer ads that emphasize collective well-being.

However, research also shows that egoistic and altruistic considerations coexist within all individuals. Therefore, advertising claims focusing on egoistic/altruistic concerns can make consumers aware of their own personal values, thus increasing the effectiveness of promotional messages, Kareklas explained.

The researchers conducted a three-part study to test their premise. The results of the first two studies suggested that consumers’ organic product purchases may be influenced by both egoistic and altruistic considerations. A key finding was that consumers are more influenced by altruistic concerns when considering the purchase of “green” or organic products than when considering the purchase of conventional products.

Photo by Shelly Hanks/WSU Photo Services.
Photo by Shelly Hanks/WSU Photo Services.

In a third study, the researchers tested the effectiveness of various advertising treatments promoting a fictitious new brand of organic meat called “Gold Standard.” The ads variously emphasized personal health, nutritional value, taste, cleaner water, humane treatment of livestock, and community support as well as a combination of these egoistic and altruistic claims.

“We found that the ad featuring both egoistic and altruistic appeals produced more favorable attitudes toward the brand and company and greater purchase intentions,” said Kareklas.

Tips for “green” strategists

These results provide an important theoretical foundation that helps explain why and how specific organic food attitudes and purchase intentions vary among individuals.

“It’s important to view consumers’ organic food perceptions and buying tendencies in relation to self-concept,” said Kareklas. “Unlike previous research that often viewed the two self-views as mutually exclusive and competing, we find that the goals of the independent and interdependent views of the self are complementary influences in the context of organic or “green” purchase considerations.”

The researchers suggest advertisers consider designing messages that relate to personal benefits and environmental benefits in tandem, because messaging is enhanced by emphasizing both.


The article, titled “I Eat Organic for My Benefit and Yours: Egotistic and Altruistic Considerations for Purchasing Organic Food and Their Implications for Advertising Strategists,” will appear in the Journal of Advertising and is available online at

Kareklas previously published a related article, titled “The Role of Regulatory Focus and Self-View in ‘Green’ Advertising Message Framing,” in the Journal of Advertising:

This story was originally published through WSU News and the WSU College of Business. Learn more about organics at

-Sue McMurray

Waste to Food: Closing the Loop on Garbage, Local Farms

Commercially produced compost from urban food waste and yard waste may be “black gold” to farmers wanting to increase their yields and profits while improving soil and water quality. Urbanization is often seen as a threat to local agriculture, but WSU research is showing that it might offer an unexpected resource for specialty crop producers in western Washington.

Feeding soil with urban waste

In 2008, as the economy slowed and construction and landscaping budgets shrank, compost producers like Cedar Grove, with facilities in both King and Snohomish Counties, found their product was piling up. “Cedar Grove approached us in late 2010 to explore the possibility of selling surplus compost to agricultural markets. So we did some initial research trials on a shoestring budget,” said Andrew Corbin, Agriculture and Natural Resources educator with WSU Snohomish County Extension. The trials documented the effects of applying commercial compost in crop production on three farms in Snohomish County.

What Corbin discovered was a dramatic impact on yields.

Commercial compost facility in Snohomish County. Photo courtesy of Lenz Enterprises.
Commercial compost facility in Snohomish County. Photo courtesy of Lenz Enterprises.

“For two years in a row, pumpkin yield increased by 20 percent and triticale showed a 100 percent increase in yield,” Corbin said. “With the potential to increase production of some specialty crops by 20 percent, this could have a significant economic impact on Washington’s specialty crop industry,” he said.

Commercial compost facilities in King and Snohomish Counties that accept food and yard waste from urban curbside collection programs produce compost on a large scale — sometimes more than they can sell for use in urban landscapes. Having to store surpluses of finished compost can be a problem for several reasons, including local air and water quality.

At the same time, with fewer local dairies to supply nutrient-rich manure, many specialty crop growers are very interested in applying compost to their fields. But few growers can produce enough of their own compost to meet the nutrition needs of their crops, often relying on fertilizer inputs produced outside the region.

According to Corbin, who was recently awarded a $200,000 USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant to expand his research, “No research like this has ever been done in western Washington. This is the largest single county project documented in the country.”

Seeing is believing In addition to the formal research trials, Corbin partnered with Cedar Grove and the Snohomish Conservation District to offer free loads of compost to 38 growers to try on their crops.

“By giving farmers the opportunity to try commercial compost at no cost and to see the benefits firsthand, we hope that this research will help them decide whether it’s something they can afford to use,” Corbin said.

Growers like Reid Carleton of Carleton Farms and Dana Young of Lucky Dove Farm were impressed with what they saw. “We had earlier emergence of pumpkin plants, they were healthier, they grew faster and with the rapid [leaf] canopy that was established, it really helped with weed control. And we got better pumpkins and more of them,” Carleton said.

Young reported that after adding the compost in May, by July the soil life was much greater. “Everything grew taller and greener. Broccoli heads and side shoots were twice as big as those on plants without the compost added,” Young said.

Mind the gap

A commercial compost facility in Snohomish County. Photo courtesy of Lenz Enterprises.
A commercial compost facility in Snohomish County. Photo courtesy of Lenz Enterprises.

Corbin hopes his project will help close the gap between what farmers are willing to pay for compost and the price compost producers are currently asking.

Lenz Enterprises, which produces Greenblenz compost products, was recently awarded a contract with the City of Seattle to compost up to a third of the city’s curbside food and yard waste and is excited to be a new participant in the WSU study. “I think we’ll be able to find a middle ground on price,” said Taylor Brown of Lenz Enterprises. “That’s part of the reason we’re getting involved — to see what farmers are looking for and where we can meet them,” he said.

“We’re near farms right here in Snohomish County, so it makes sense to harness that market and return the material back to the soil. It’s marketing and it’s the right thing to do,” Brown said.

Research expansion

With the infusion of new funding, the three-year Snohomish County Agricultural Compost Research and Outreach Project, or SCACROP, will include six formal research trials designed to evaluate yield, soil properties, water infiltration and other properties. The project will expand demonstration trials to 75 farmers in Snohomish County and northern King County, and include more commercial composters like Lenz Enterprises and Bailey Compost.

“WSU Extension can help farmers keep up with demand for local food while recovering a valuable resource from our urban waste stream,” Corbin said.

With growing interest in local food production as well as concerns about the use of chemical fertilizers and increasing urban waste streams, farmers and commercial composters across the country will be eager for the results of the SCACROP research.

Additional support for SCACROP research is provided by Snohomish County’s Surface Water Management Division and Economic Development Team, Snohomish County Solid Waste Division, Snohomish County Office of Energy and Sustainability, the Snohomish Conservation District, King County Solid Waste Division, Waste Management Inc., Lenz Enterprises, Bailey Compost and Cedar Grove Composting Inc.

Get Involved!

Farmers in Snohomish County or northern King County interested in participating in the 2014-2015 compost trials may contact Hallie Harness at 425-357-6026,

WSU Compost Outreach Project, Part 1 WSU Compost Outreach Project, Part 2: Learning from the Farmers

-Sylvia Kantor

PNW Bioenergy Farms Tour

Over 120 public agency, policy, research, and extension stakeholders got an inside look this summer at how poplars may lead the Pacific Northwest toward energy self-sufficiency. Attendees toured demonstration sites, part of the Advanced Hardwood Biofuels research project, which are designed to test and showcase all aspects of growing hybrid poplar as a renewable resource for transportation fuels in the Northwest.

Tour participants beneath two-year old poplars at the Oregon site. Photo by Shibu Kar/WSU.
Tour participants beneath two-year old poplars at the Oregon site. Photo by Shibu Kar/WSU.

Increasing Efficiency Attendees at each of the Washington, Oregon, and Idaho sites learned that poplars lend themselves to the production of biofuel because they grow fast and have a high sugar content, plus poplar biofuel leaves a smaller carbon footprint than corn ethanol or fo

ssil fuels. The feedstock can be harvested as needed and is “stored on the stump” until a nearby biorefinery is ready to convert the woody biomass into fuel. By locating plantations close to regional biorefineries, little energy is required to transport the feedstock.

“Everybody is intrigued by the idea — people I’ve talked to love that you can grow a tree that will add 10 to 12 feet in a year and has the potential to contribute to energy self-sufficiency,” said Chris Schnepf, a tour participant from University of Idaho Extension. “What gives me the most hope is if there is a technology to generate liquid fuel that is affordable to produce, that the cost of growing and transporting it will be covered by the price,” he said.

Research partners from GreenWood Resources, Inc., an Oregon-based company that manages and develops tree farms with hardwood feedstocks for the biofuel supply chain, explained the renewable production cycle. Using a system of coppicing – cutting the trees at the base and allowing the stumps to re-sprout – and a two- to three-year harvest cycle means the trees won’t need to be replanted for nearly 25 years.

Visitors were impressed to see that, after only two growing seasons, trees at the Jefferson, Ore., site were already 15-20 feet tall. The trees will be harvested using a forage harvester that cuts and chips them in a single pass before the chips are sent to a biorefinery.

Multifaceted research

Research at the sites is designed to understand the growth and efficiency of different poplar clones under various conditions in the Northwest. Data collected will allow researchers to determine how much volume per acre can be generated and help estimate production costs per “green ton” (2,000 pounds of undried biomass material) or per acre. Other types of data collected at the demonstration sites include soil quality parameters, wildlife monitoring, and pest and disease monitoring. Endophyte trials – inoculating trees with beneficial bacteria or fungi that can help deliver nutrients, stimulate root growth, and increase drought tolerance – are also underway.

Walking the fields, participants were introduced to multiple varieties of hybrid poplar and viewed research trials on interplanting poplar with alder (an alternative hardwood feedstock), designed to determine the effects of nitrogen fixing on poplars.

Policy makers show interest

Attendees ran the gamut from state legislators, city officials, extension educators and conservation district staff to landowners, and nonprofit and government agency personnel, including representatives from departments of commerce, agriculture, and ecology from the three states. Impressed by the diversity of attendees at the Jefferson site, Bill Goldner, USDA National Program Leader for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the agency funding the $40 million Advanced Hardwood Biofuels project, described the tour as “one of the best run showcase opportunities I have seen among CAP [Coordinated Agricultural Project] tours. The organizers did a nice job of involving the state and other stakeholders.”

The tours took place at the 95-acre Pilchuck demonstration site near Stanwood, Wash., in August, and at the 85-acre site near Jefferson, Ore., in early September. Despite pouring rain, over 40 people turned out to see the 65-acre site in Hayden, Idaho. On November 4, a fourth tour was held at the 50-acre demonstration site near Clarksburg, Calif.

More information: Video:

-Sylvia Kantor