Communicating about the Environment

Jennie L. LambNews, The Blog

Communicating about the Environment

by Sara E. Carney, M.S. | scarney@cvm.tamu.edu
Communication Specialist | Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
Thursday, July 28, 2016

When it comes to communicating about environmental issues, finding the right words can be difficult. Topics such as climate change, pollution, and energy are often laden with complex scientific concepts and political undertones. Despite these challenges, discussing the environment shows commitment to issues that are of shared importance to everyone. Here are some tips for keeping your audience engaged and maximizing your communication potential.

Know your audience. How interested is your audience in the environment? How much do they know about environmental topics? These are a few of the key questions to ask beforehand. Who your audience is should determine how you craft your message. Consider what aspects of the environment are most relevant to them and what aspects of your message may warrant further explanation. 

Make it personal. Most of us have seen images of polar bears clinging on to a small ice platform. Although these kinds of images may be attention grabbing, they may not elicit the intended action or engagement from the audience. Instead, focus on what affects the audience personally. For example, discussing the economic consequences or public health dangers of climate change is generally more impactful.

Avoid the negative, when possible. Most people understand that environmental issues have serious, often disastrous, consequences. Many times the negative consequences must be addressed. Whenever possible, try to emphasize opportunities for teamwork and innovation. These messages often inspire people rather than frustrate them.

Avoid the environment versus industry trope. Corporate interest versus the environment is an often-cited false dichotomy. Although this can sometimes be true, environmental concern can lead to innovation, and solutions are not necessarily costly. Such narratives often feed an “us versus them,” problem-centered mentality rather than promoting action and engagement.

Offer tangible solutions. Many people want to help mitigate environmental issues but may feel like it is out of their hands. Providing specific, achievable solutions empowers and motivates people. This can include suggesting simple tasks, such as recycling paper or turning off lights when not in use.

Use visual language, images, and stories to explain complex information. Environmental topics can be complex, making them difficult to understand. Rather than delving into all the scientific details, try using stories, descriptive language, and images to support your message. Here is an example from Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey of how a metaphor can be used to talk about climate change.

Don’t mix up topics. There are a lot of environmental issues. While it can be tempting to discuss them all at once, doing so can lead to confusion. For example, many erroneously believe that the depletion of the ozone layer and climate change are linked. Make comparisons where they exist. There is a known link between climate change and greenhouse gasses, and mentioning them together solidifies the link between the two.

Tackling environmental issues can seem daunting. But, it doesn’t have to be. Most people care about the planet we live on and want to better understand how to take care of it. And, they will likely appreciate an organization that shares these values.

 

Sara CarneySara E. Carney, M.S., is a writer/editor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. She recently earned her master’s in Science & Technology Journalism, completing a thesis that examines how the television show Cosmos and its remake discusses the environment. She’s been a member of Brazos Valley IABC since 2015.

The Blog at bviabc.com publishes articles written by local professionals engaging in professional communications on topics that coincide with IABC International’s Editorial Calendar and the content found in Communication World Magazine. The theme for July 2016 is “Social Issue/Development Communication.”