Economy, Environment, Health & Wellness, Sustainability

Breathe Project Launches to Clean Air in Pittsburgh Region

by Molly Tsongas

At a major regional event in attended by business, government and nonprofit leaders at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum today, Robert Vagt, President of The Heinz Endowments, announced the launch of the Breathe Project featuring a comprehensive media campaign created by Citizen Group.

The region-wide public education and engagement effort utilizes traditional and new media, including TV, radio, newspapers, mobile and social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  And a feature-length documentary is being developed to air next year.

All the advertising carries a standing invitation to the Breathe Project’s interactive website,, also created by Citizen Group, where visitors can learn more about pollution sources in their communities, check out upcoming events and take individual and collective actions to reduce air pollution.

While the terrible visible air pollution that plagued the region decades ago is no longer the case in Pittsburgh, the region still has some of the most polluted air in the country, and its residents are at much higher risk for a range of serious health problems, including asthma, heart disease and lung cancer.

“Our challenge was to raise awareness of this situation among a relatively content and unaware public,” said Robin Raj, Founder and Creative Director at Citizen Group. “Research told us that Pittsburghers love their city and region and we wanted to build on those good feelings yet alert people to the invisible toxins in the air that are causing these awful health effects. A segmentation study told us that our key targets were parents of young children, civically engaged adults and who practiced a greener lifestyle, so we made our appeal especially to them.”

The campaign supports a comprehensive program and coalition strategy to improve air quality in the region that the Heinz Endowments has been funding for over ten years. “We are making major investments in researching the causes of air pollution, its health and economic impact, providing support to our air quality grantees and developing a business, government and nonprofit coalition that can work at making systemic change in the region,” commented Vagt. “Yet we realized we needed 'air cover' for this effort if we were going to change public will and create opportunities for individual involvement. Citizen Group showed us how to connect the dots between these different activities through their media and engagement campaign.”

Connecting the dots, in this case, the microscopic air particles that are causing higher rates of asthma, heart and lung disease in the region, is the creative focus of the campaign. The TV and print ads use large purple floating dots to represent these unseen pollutants and call on viewers to make the connection between the air toxins and the negative health impacts in the region.

The TV spots feature the voiceover talent of Blythe Danner, who has been involved in other national air pollution reduction campaigns.

The campaign is also inspired by the hard work of many Pittsburghers to effect change. “I didn’t think one person could do anything that would really make a difference,” said Peter Bartholomew, a junior at the Creative and Performing Arts High School in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. In his story, Bartholomew talks about dealing with chronic asthma for years. He would often complain about his condition, but two years ago, he acted on his mother’s advice that complaining about a problem isn’t nearly as satisfying as rolling up your sleeves and working toward a solution.

Bartholomew helped lead a campaign to convince the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education to pass a new policy requiring diesel retrofits on its entire school bus fleet. “There are still a lot of things that have to be done for us to have the clean air we all want,” Bartholomew said. “But each step gets us closer to that goal.”

Citizen is proud to be part of this important initative to improve the air quality for the health of the families and economy in the Pittsburgh region.

Categorized under: Economy | Environment | Health & Wellness | Sustainability