How do you increase public demand around climate change?

November 25, 2009 at 10:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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For me, the climate change debate is about communication. To increase supply of clean energy by changing policies, there must be more demand.  To increase the demand, people need to be given clear messages about what to ask for.

Living in Europe, it is interesting to see how the conversation here is different from from the US.  Climate change seems to be in the media regularly, and to limited controversy.   People are contentedly riding their bikes and taking their high-speed trains.  Shopping is not such a passionate recreation as it is in the US.  At the grocery stores, it seems half the products are ‘Bio’, and the prices are good.

I recently heard Dr. Ranier Wend, the director of public policy and responsibility at DHL speak about how the world’s largest shipping company is making changes to reduce their carbon footprint (30% by 2030) because of consumer demand.  But this demand came only from European customers.  He went on to say that “people’s identification with market structures is on the decline”—which I tried to imagine a corporate leader in the US saying, but couldn’t quite get there. In the US, this feeling is currently being called “rising populism” stemming from a fear of people’s own individual economic vulnerability.  I think the Euro-phrasing is more constructive.

Anyhow, it amazes me that despite the black-hole that the climate change debate has become, that so few messages breakthrough.  When you want to know how to change public opinion, there is only one place to turn: market research. Doesn’t matter where you are, Germany, Kenya, US.  Get out there and do your homework, then prepare your pitch.

So I was glad to see this report “Climate and Energy Truths” about US opinion written by Eco-America and funded by the NRDC and others.   Here are some of the findings – now I only hope they will build some messages around them.

  • People are more energized around energy issues than climate change, but they can become engaged if energy is linked to climate change, health or pollution.
  • Messaging around climate change is stronger when it is value-oriented rather than policy or scientifically based– and tapping into multiple values is better than one value.  Messaging on climate alone is weaker.
  • Leading with words like climate crisis, global warming or climate change can be problematic.  Deteriorating atmosphere was more effective.
  • Make messages win-win – economically and environmentally beneficial, not a trade-off.

The most revealing part of the report gets right down to it — confirming some suspicions I have had all along about the words that we use: Climate crisis seems too alarmist to people, and either makes them anxious, which makes them shut down, or makes them discount the source as histrionic. Climate change is too bland and has also become politicized and polarized.

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  1. Thanks for the post and giving a shout out to our report: Climate and Energy Truths. Messaging/framing are essential for successful communications. We have more research at our website (http://ecoamerica.org/) and I also post daily on green consumer research and marketing at our blog (http://ecoamerica.typepad.com/blog/).


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