Old Joes Creek gets a makeover

Old Joe's Creek’ is a drain that runs underneath an industrial estate in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. It’s heavily polluted, carrying insecticides and heavy metals such as cadmium, silver and lead into Dandenong Creek. It smells. Fish are dying. Something had to be done.

Stormwater discharge is a major contributor to polluting urban waterways. Despite this, there is limited knowledge regarding the performance and effectiveness of non-structural measures in managing stormwater pollution in industrial areas. Recognising this gap, Melbourne Water engaged BehaviourWorks Australia to see if we could change the cause of the pollution, rather than the course. Using a range of behaviour change strategies, the research aimed to become a practice model for addressing stormwater pollution from a behavioural standpoint.

The challenge:
How to encourage businesses around the creek to do more to reduce pollution
Melbourne Water

What did we do?

We did a literature review and set up a field trial to capture insights on the target audience; the industries around Old Joe's Creek.

Target behaviours

We know that this kind of stormwater pollution isn’t caused by one-off big events. Rather, its cumulative spills and bad habits need to be addressed, so five key behaviours were identified to help Old Joe smell sweet again:

  • Check the drains.
  • Be careful where you wash into.
  • Secure loose materials.
  • Store and manage your liquids properly.
  • Put spill kits and spill plans in place.


Like most behaviour change solutions, a range of interventions were developed, including: 

  • Letters were sent out to alert businesses about the campaign and offer a free assessment of their premises.
  • Outside consultants were contracted to knock on 800 business doors, put up 500 posters and assess premises that were high risk (over 250).
  • Those businesses that accepted the offer (about 20 per cent) had verbal and visual assessments done and recommendations were made about what they could do. A few weeks later, the assessors came back to look for improvements.

What did we find?

Some things worked; others not so much!

Smaller businesses generally reacted well to the interventions but bigger businesses (who didn’t have a central head office on the site) saw it as a compliance hassle.

Although the sample size was small, this field study revealed that most businesses try to do the right thing, even if they lean towards the easiest and quickest options.

And the assessors were a big hit, especially in informal chats where people could ask questions and get answers on the spot.

The old school method of compliance has been described as ‘Speak quietly and carry a big stick’. This project updates that approach to ‘Speak clearly and early, offer a carrot and have the stick ready just in case’.

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