On August 16, President Joe Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), which represents the most sweeping and significant set of climate programs in U.S. history. While also addressing healthcare and economic issues, one goal of the bill is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% over the next seven years.
For marketers and communications professionals, this is a moment to take notice. Because, as the climate programs in this legislation begin to be enacted, it will be our job to articulate the way our companies and clients are engaging in activities around them and, in some cases, bring new technologies and ideas to market. And communicating about participation in climate efforts is not always simple.
For example, the Yale Program on Climate Change notes that the long-established transmission communication model, in which a messenger shares a message to specific groups through specific channels, is still commonly used but is often too simplistic and doesn’t always get the job done when it comes to climate communication.
Rather, the Yale Program notes that there are complexities in today’s society that must be taken into consideration: a wide variety of messengers with different – and sometimes opposing – messages, a huge range of channels, and diverse audiences who come to the table with their own pre-existing beliefs, attitudes and values. If we’ve learned one thing over the last few years, it’s the challenge of getting people to agree on a solution when not everyone buys into the fact that there’s even a problem. Yet, the only way we can gain advocacy for climate programming is through communication that leads to an outcome of understanding, support and ultimately, behavior change.
Having led communications programs for energy and renewables companies for nearly 20 years, I believe there are four best practices that extend to how we communicate in the dynamic moment of right now.
Start with ‘me’
Humans are self-interested creatures and appeals to self-interest rarely go unrewarded. Yale’s research shows that most Americans are worried about harm from a range of environmental problems in their local area. To the degree you can make messaging personal, it is always more effective. Of course, this requires multiple message sets and multiple messengers for multiple variations of ‘me’ among stakeholders. For example, while some may be motivated with the promise of a cleaner future for their grandchildren, another may perk up about the millions of jobs being created through the clean energy revolution, and others are incentivized by the injection of community tax revenue that comes with a new solar or wind farm, and how that helps fund things like police forces and schools. The good news is that the IRA is nothing if not chock full of incentives. Let’s call it the Oprah Winfrey of tax credits. Almost everyone gets one. Strategic communication of climate messages should follow the same formula.
Inject hope while demonstrating reality
According to one Yale study, about six in 10 Americans (62%) say they feel “interested” when thinking about global warming. About half say they feel “disgusted” or “sad” (both 51%). Four in 10 or more say they feel “afraid” (46%), “angry” (44%) or “outraged” (42%). While anger and fear can be strong motivators, they are also emotions that numb and pass. They can also come with the urge to throw up our hands and say all is lost. Hope, on the other hand, can also be a motivator and provide a stronger foundation for support and advocacy among stakeholders. Unfortunately, many of the net-zero promises, climate pledges and vague emissions goals laid out by both corporate America and government over the last decades have created a sense of distrust that real action was underway, or that anyone even had a clue on how to get there. To create real trust, audiences are looking for action, not just talk. Now with financial carrots as motivators, companies may be able to move faster in demonstrating their results and proving to key stakeholders that this is the real deal.
Contextualize the technical
Climate programs are technical by nature, and people are not. It’s easy to get caught up in the jargon and forget most stakeholders don’t speak science. For example, telling people that the annual reduction in CO2 emissions is estimated at approximately 2,869 tons per month based on historical records doesn’t mean much. But it helps when you add that this is equivalent to the CO2 produced by about 620 million passenger cars a year. Or that the world’s largest solar battery stores as much energy as 100 million iPhone batteries.
Break through the clutter of increased competition
There’s been no shortage of clean energy news in recent years from both start-up tech companies and big energy players. However, before IRA, there may have been a few green hydrogen or carbon capture solutions in town enjoying the spotlight, and that’s likely to change. Because the bill is tech-neutral, meaning it doesn’t advocate for one solution over another to reduce emissions, it will effectively activate a modern-day “clean tech Shark Tank,” all vying for their share of the “green bank” of funds as well as share of voice. In the next phase of the clean revolution, it will take both creativity and skill to both capture attention and convince audiences that your idea is the best one.
The next few years will hold many more opportunities for many more companies, and by extension their marketing teams, to engage in communication around climate programs. And it’s important that we recognize that this is a moment to evolve our approach to meet the moment. Will effective communication solve our climate challenges? Not alone, but the challenges won’t be solved without it either.
Sandra Ericson is partner and energy and renewables practice lead at rbb Communications.
This article originally appeared on PRWeek US.