On the New York Times blog Dot Earth, Andy Revkin has been periodically examining the challenge of green communications. No, not the daily efforts we put forth reaching out to journalists like Revkin with our clients' stories. Rather, the conversation he's encouraging centers on the broader struggle to communicate the immediacy and magnitude of climate change in a unified, understandable way to a wide audience.
However, though the subject is broader, the fundamental question is the same: How can we use language to make people care? With the climate change story, it often seems that the public has become anesthetized to doomsday predictions, alienated by scientific jargon, and polarized by the political connotations of certain terms.
While the campaign for the health of the planet is larger than any public relations campaign for a business, many of the issues are the same as those we face in business storytelling, especially for clients in related industries. A few things to think about:
Clarity: A consistent, immediately understandable message is key. For example, A recent study by ecoAmerica, a non-profit environmental marketing group suggests, "Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about “our deteriorating atmosphere.” Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up “moving away from the dirty fuels of the past.” Don’t confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund.”
Audience: As is often suggested in this conversation, we need to make the climate change story relatable and meet the audience where they are. Seed Magazine asked six experts to discuss the ecoAmerica report and the issue of framing climate change in the article, "Is There a Better Word for Doom?" Some of the brightest minds in climate change and sustainability debate the successes and shortcomings of the collective campaign to effect changes that will positively impact the planet. You can also review Dot Earth's post on the Seed discussion, "A Climate (Communications) Crisis?" which suggests that the issue is not as much how we give a human voice to the message.
Immediacy: How can we make the story relevant to the here and now? I think this is one of the most challenging aspects of telling the climate change story, as the end of the story remains inevitably unresolved. Many of the negative repercussions we talk about in the climate change story are still very far off. However, I believe addressing the first two points, clarity and audience, well can help storytellers – whether PR professionals, journalists, academics or scientists, convey immediacy more effectively and minimize this challenge.
One Greenough client that's found success bringing the environmental story to life life is TRIRIGA, whose CEO likens reducing environmental impact to dieting, as in this article in Forbes. A carbon footprint is an intangible concept that can be difficult to comprehend. Using the framework of obesity and dieting helps bridge that gap, especially for busy executives who need to understand a challenge and potential solution in an instant.
– Contributed by Catharine Morgan. Follow her @c_morgan