Key Findings from Cooling on Climate Change: Designing the Message



“If you have information that is important to the public, you should try to communicate it.” -Dr. James Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

A couple weeks ago Urban Green gathered a NASA scientist, leaders of environmental organizations responding to climate change, academics with expertise in understanding how Americans assess risk and deal with this issue, and design professionals trying to communicate their environmentally responsible intents to clients. As one of the organizers of the event, I was anticipating a good conference full of new information and insight.  What I didn’t anticipate was the fluidity of the morning and the fantastic ability of the speakers to play off of one another to draw out new conclusions and leave the audience with a such clear set of principles for talking about climate change.  Actually, make that carbon pollution.

As noted in our live blog posts and other pieces since the conference, it’s clear that climate change and carbon pollution can be challenging topics for discussion. It’s a global problem that requires immediate action and potential sacrifice to produce benefits in a near or distant future, but it’s not widely viewed as a pressing problem.  It’s easy to think someone else will sort it all out for us. Unfortunately, we know this is not the case, but luckily our speakers discussed a host of ways we can hone our message and get through to our colleagues, clients, and others.

If you were unable to attend or you were in the audience and would like a refresher, we’ve provided an overview below. Urban Green Council members can also take a look at the presentations through our secure weblink. How to talk about climate change in five easy steps:

1. First and foremost, know your audience. All of our communication experts agreed it’s best to have multiple messages for different groups; family, friends, staff, clients, public, etc. Talk to scientists with graphs and charts, speak to clients about health and cost savings, encourage colleagues with business opportunity and productivity improvements, and stir family members to action with personal benefits to children and grandchildren.

2. Scientific facts alone do not convince many people of the dangers (or existence) of climate change. However, talking about climate pollution and associated health risks, for example, make the problem more real and actionable. According to speaker David Ropeik, the brain is four parts subconscious and one part conscious, which means reason is only one-fifth of the decision-making process. He suggests discussing risks that are local and personal instead of global and abstract.

3. Credibility is key so speak from your area of expertise.  Trusted validators from various fields need to deliver the message. All of us in the green building community from developers to construction workers should be speaking out.

4. Counter specific arguments.  This means you must be well-versed in the arguments made by those who support climate action and those who do not.

5. Talk about solutions and quality of life improvements. Don’t just dwell on the problem without proposing solutions. It can be very dismal as compared to opportunities for improvement. Show how changes that mitigate climate change improve health and quality of life and can also improve business. Panelist Dan Probst of Jones Lang LaSalle argued that you can increase financial returns while reducing carbon pollution.

Once you figured out what to say it’s important to remember to do more than talk; act.  As part of the green building community we have the ability to speak out about climate change and the risk of carbon pollution AND take action in the projects we design, develop, and occupy. Let your organization be a driver of change.

That’s all it takes. For those of you who were there, we would love to hear your comments on the day and what you’ll take away from the conference.  Do you have new ideas on how to speak about climate change? Please add your comments below.