As a content marketer, I mostly plan and write blog posts for sustainable companies. When possible, I use blogging to communicate the importance of an economic energy transition and climate solutions. In spite of my best efforts, there are lots of challenges to effectively communicating climate solutions, as well as sorting out the real from the false solutions.
For instance, I used to use the phrase "environmental footprint" in my writing. I will no longer do so now that I learned that BP coined the phrase "carbon footprint" as part of a PR campaign.
Its aim was to promote individual problem solving for climate change by personal CO2 reductions, rather than systemic solutions like reducing global carbon emissions through laws, regulations, or other policies.
Many of my clients have similarly supported an "individual actions" approach, because it's compelling to consumers, and they can link it to their sales of so-called "eco-friendly" products.
Yet, some of the more progressive companies I work for are moving beyond this and educating their audiences about policy. Thanks to Patagonia's environmental activism, it's now seen as a sound marketing strategy to support a clear political agenda on climate if it aligns with your mission.
As Rebecca Solnit recently wrote, "individual and collective action don’t have to be pitted against each other. Individual choices do add up (they just don’t, in [Bill] McKibben’s terms, multiply)."
Seemingly innocent environmental buzzwords like "carbon footprint" are often promoted through powerful media channels for specific goals. That's why it's important to do the research to understand how and why different phrases, jargon, or buzzwords are selected and who they benefit.
I've since decided to become more intentional in my approach to language around climate change. I'd like to share some of the resources I use to gain insights about communicating this global problem.
Climate communications resources
Carbon Brief - Who is it? An award-wining UK-based climate information site dedicated to providing data-driven resources and explainers on covering the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy. It is directed and edited by former Guardian editor and journalist, Leo Hickman. What does it do? "We specialise in clear, data-driven articles and graphics to help improve the understanding of climate change, both in terms of the science and the policy response. We publish a wide range of content, including science explainers, interviews, analysis and factchecks, as well as daily and weekly email summaries of newspaper and online coverage." Why does it do this? It supports factual, science-based discourse on climate change.
Yale Climate Communication - Who is it? A research program of Yale University. What does it do? Provides data and updates on polls relating to public perceptions about climate change in the U.S. It provides data on "knowledge, attitudes, policy preferences, and behavior at the global, national, and local scales." Why does it do this? It aims to "help build public and political will for climate action."
Covering Climate Now - Who is it? "Co-founded by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation in association with The Guardian and WNYC in 2019, CCNow’s 460-plus partners include some of the biggest names in news, and some of the smallest, because this story needs everyone. What does it do? "CCNow collaborates with journalists and newsrooms to produce more informed and urgent climate stories, to make climate a part of every beat in the newsroom — from politics and weather to business and culture — and to drive a public conversation that creates an engaged public." Why does it do this? "Mindful of the media’s responsibility to inform the public and hold power to account, we advise newsrooms, share best practices, and provide reporting resources that help journalists ground their coverage in science while producing stories that resonate with audiences. "
Climate X Change, Communicating the Climate Crisis - Who is it? Through the State Climate Policy Network (SCPN), 15,000+ members strong and counting, we build collective knowledge and forge new connections to boost state campaigns nationwide. What does it do? We empower state and local policy makers, business leaders, and advocates with the information, resources, and networks they need to make these policies a reality in a way that best serves local communities. Why does it do this? Our mission is to achieve a durable, just transition away from polluting fossil fuels in the United States by advancing climate policy at the state level.
Clean Creatives - Who is it? A pledge for PR and Ad agencies not to work with fossil fuel companies created by Fossil Free Media, "a nonprofit media lab that supports the movement to end fossil fuels and address the climate emergency." What does it do? It provides a list of PR firms and Ad agencies working with fossil fuel companies, as well as creatives agencies and professionals who have pledged not to work with them. Why does it do this? The aim is to raise awareness around the unethical promotion of fossil fuel products and the deceptive messaging used in their campaigns. See also: Fossil Free Media Research
Covering Climate Equitably - Who is it? This is a guide from The Solutions Project, led by CEO Gloria Walton, funded by a number of large environmental organizations and impact investing funds. What does it do? "Women and people of color are leading critical climate actions, so we’ve taken action to support them. Through our “100% Commitment to Justice” pledge, we’ve dedicated the vast majority of our resources to help fund, amplify, and connect their impactful work." Why does it do this? "As we shift to a regenerative economy, we’re focused on equitable solutions that directly benefit those most impacted."
Interesting reads on messaging
- Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming - (book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway)
- The curse of ‘both-sidesism’: How climate denial skewed media coverage for 30 years - (Grist)
- Yes, science is political (Scientific American)
- Young people’s climate anxiety revealed in landmark survey (Nature)
- Key phrases for communicating the climate crisis in 2020 - which is still relevant today! (something I wrote and published on Medium).
- Honest Government Ad | Carbon Capture & Storage (The Juice Media, for laughs)
Thanks for reading :)
Sustainability Traffic is a (mostly) weekly newsletter written by Erica Eller. I am a content marketing strategist and writer who works with sustainable companies.
Which climate comms resources do you use? Comment to lmk.