Becoming equipped with the proper language to engage in these often difficult conversations is not only important for sustainability-minded businesses and individuals, but really for anyone willing to tap into the subject.
Talking about climate change effectively is a huge challenge. Becoming equipped with the proper language to engage in these often difficult conversations is not only important for sustainability-minded businesses and individuals, but really for anyone willing to tap into the subject. By developing the skill set to talk about climate change, we are also able to tackle other sustainability topics as we possess the tools to talk to any audience in a way that is both unbiased and engaging.
Imagery is often perceived as a powerful approach to getting messages across about the negative effects of climate change. We all know those pictures of animals full of trash in their stomachs. But is that the most effective approach to encourage more sustainable actions? The Guardian’s recent article “Why pictures of polar bears don’t always tell the truth about climate change” by Kate Monson points out the drawbacks of this approach and calls for a shift in the themes of climate change imagery from doomsday to hopeful. The article mentions the success of the recent #itshappening campaign led by 1010UK that utilizes inspiring scenes with short blurbs overlaid that refer to environmental successes. One striking example from the site includes the background image of Barcelona’s renowned church, La Sagrada Familia with the simple yet powerful statement “The number one power source in Spain in 2013? Wind” superimposed over the image.
Similarly, the language surrounding climate change in written or spoken word also needs an overhaul. This cheat sheet provides a way to shift current language to more optimistic and simple terms that are also able to evoke personal response. If you have been wondering why the term ”global warming” has seen its way out of sustainability jargon, this cheat sheet begins to explain why.
The most important thing to consider when talking about climate change, whether through imagery or writing, is that the way information is being presented is relatable — and to all audiences. When climate change messages include aspects of human experience, especially through personal stories, people are more likely to understand how their own lives directly tie in or contribute to climate change. Combining this tactic with more positive framing also invites everyone into the conversation about climate change as well as the broader concepts of sustainability. Conversely, throwing straight facts or apocalyptic images at people only runs the risk of turning people away from sustainability altogether, something no one trying to make progress towards a sustainable future wants to do. Instead, the focus of climate change language needs to “balance urgency with saliency, connecting global impacts to local actions,” as Monson asserts.
What does this more optimistic take on sustainability language look like for businesses? The most straightforward answer is to communicate the benefits of being sustainable. Ben Schiller proposes an economic approach in his article “If You Want People to Save Energy, Money Talks in the Long Run” through the argument that saving money typically proves a more compelling reason to be more sustainable than moral appeals and “save the planet” language. Companies looking to cultivate conversations about sustainability can appeal to positive outcomes of becoming more sustainable such as cost savings, new sources of revenue and enhanced community health. In doing so, these businesses can appeal to a wide range of stakeholders by directly relating how being sustainable can bring about personal or company-wide benefit. It’s a win-win.