From sea-level rise to plastic pollution and forest fires, dozens of environmental issues need the world’s attention. But to get it, you need to communicate these issues in ways that will inspire people to act. Here are the three main challenges I’ve found when speaking about environmental issues and my tips on how to overcome them.
Challenge 1. You want to talk to everyone
Environmental organizations want to reach everyone, the general public, policymakers, governments, funding agencies, millennials. I understand this desire, but trying to reach everyone can confuse or bore your ideal audience. They will have a hard time finding information that appeals to them, and you will have to create tailored content for different demographics, languages, and interests. That’s going to take too much time!
Tip 1. Define what your audience has in common
Maybe they live in the same country or region. They could be from a similar age group or have the same level of expertise on the topic. Perhaps they are interested in helpful sustainability tips or want to know more about global environmental treaties. Once you find this, you’ll be able to focus on creating a relationship with that specific audience, which will improve your clarity and effectiveness.
Challenge 2. Sustainability facts and numbers are hard to grasp
Let’s face it, sustainability concepts are vague. When I read a sentence like: a solar panel saves around 7 tons of CO2 per year, I immediately ask myself countless questions. Is that number below or above average? Is it similar to other sources of energy? Has it changed over the years? Data without context can confuse your audience and derail them from your main point.
Tip 2. Make your data relatable and link it to what your audience likes
Since you already know what your audience has in common, you can connect it to your data and create funny, memorable, and personalized content. For example, suppose my audience is from Colombia. In that case, I could say something like: Did you know that Colombia has more hummingbird species (150) than the number of songs Shakira has written in her life (140), making it the country with the most variety of hummingbirds in the world? This fact will make people laugh, think, and remember.
Challenge 3. Success stories are repetitive
I’ve seen the same success story told countless times by organizations of all types and sizes. It goes something like this: A señora in a village in a rural area doesn’t have access to clean water [or another resource]. Then, an organization cleans the local river [provides the service]. Now the señora can have a better life. You can change the place, the resource, and the service and use this story for dozens of projects. It doesn’t tell the story of how and why this particular environmental issue was solved and why it’s crucial to care and act.
Tip 3. Flip the lens
To create memorable stories, think about places, objects, natural elements, cultural events, entire neighborhoods, and tell the story through that lens. Imagine if the story above starts with the journey of a drop of water, all the way from its origin at a snowy mountain peak, to a newly clean river, to the señora’s garden, and then downhill to a city where millions of citizens depend on it for their daily activities. That small drop shows you why it’s essential to have clean water sources and how everyone can benefit. It’s not a replaceable story.
There you have it, the 3 most common problems when communicating about sustainability issues and my three tips to overcome them:
- Find what your audience has in common
- Make your facts and numbers relatable
- Flip the lens of your stories
Have you used any of these tips already? What other tips would you add?