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1.4 What Are We to Do?

The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion helps us realize that repetition can be helpful in getting the message out. Also, thoughtful message design is important. Mike Johnson, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities, at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and a retired Rear Admiral in the US Navy's Civil Engineer Corps, talked to me about the difficulty getting the word out about sustainabilityrelated initiatives. Although he was talking about intraorganizational communication, the same holds true for external communication. In discussing messaging, Mike said:

Part of what we are talking about is, you can't be too complex. So what you need to do is pick some highlights, talk about 'we saved 5,000 kW h, that's 5 tons of coal not used to generate the electricity, that would power a classroom for 2 months.' And then go on with it, don't belabor it, come at it from a different direction and then retransmit. I used to tell my troops, if you don't transmit it 50 times, you probably have not gotten to everybody and by the time you get to the 50th time you need to start over, because the ones that originally understood it have forgotten about it. So you just need to keep cycling.

In this example, we see the use of repetition, but we also see the message designer seeking to frame the importance of one particular number.

I asked David Driskell, Boulder's Executive Director of Community Planning

and Sustainability, to define good communication. He said:

Thinking critically about the audience, where they are at in their understanding. How to present the information in an accessible way. Having different tiers of communication. So I can give the 30-section version or the 3-minute version or the 3-hour version, depending on the audience's ability and interest.

In 2013, effective communication about energy-related sustainability issues was especially important in Boulder, CO. Boulder was one of the first US cities to adopt the Kyoto Protocol. City leadership set a goal to reduce Boulder's greenhouse gas emissions to 7 % below 1990 levels by 2012. They worked hard to reach this goal. In 2006, voters passed the Climate Action Plan Tax, the nation's first carbon tax. Despite engaging in multiple efficiencies, the city realized they could not reach their goal unless they shifted their dependency away from the carbon-intensive coal their energy provider, Xcel, used. They asked Xcel to change the city's energy source from coal to alternative energy to help them meet their carbon goals. Xcel refused. In 2011, voters directed the city to explore different options for providing clean, reliable, low-cost, local energy to their community. One possibility included creating a local power utility. In November 2013, voters passed a measure supporting the creation of a local power utility if a number of conditions were met, rather than the countermeasure Xcel placed on the ballot to block further efforts in that direction. The energy future project involved “navigating an incredibly complex, political environment,” David told me.

The city pulled together a communication team from various parts of the organization to think strategically about providing clear messages about complex technical information involving the city's energy supply, energy rate structure, and energy distribution system. David explained:

You can get lost in the weeds [of the complex information] and the communication team has such a great way of looking at all that and figuring out what is important, what do people need to know? How do we present it in a way that they can hear it?

David discussed the need for the messaging to be informative rather than persuasive saying “it is a fine line to walk.” He also talked about message framing:

It has been a huge learning curve for us as the city and for the community about where energy comes from and what's happening in the energy industry and the choices that we have. And that combined with our climate commitment work, we've really tried to reframe it from doom and gloom, the planet is going to die if we don't do something, to we have an opportunity to be a leader in the future of energy in terms of creating a low-carbon economy. Invent it here and export it everywhere in the world and support our companies who are doing innovative, greener things, and I think it is a pretty exciting time.

Throughout this book, you will learn ways to more strategically and effectively communicate about your organization's sustainability initiatives with internal and external stakeholders. You will also see how other organizations are preparing for and embracing the opportunity to change the ways they do business.

 
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