By Amanda Czepiel
At last week's New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission's (NEIWPCC) Annual Nonpoint Source Pollution Conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the keynote speaker—Eric Eckl of Water Words That Work—hit the nail on the head: People who work in the environmental fields and in sustainability are often so entrenched in the work they do and, as a result, the technical language that is associated with such work, they (we!) forget how to relate to the very people we are trying to educate and sway into caring about sustainability.
Water Words That Work LLC is an organization that helps nature protection and pollution control organizations professionalize and modernize their communications so that they are effective. As Eckl emphasized, public opinion polls show that most citizens state that the environment is important to them but that poor environmental communications often create a "gap" between awareness and action. To bridge this gap, Eckl shared four steps to help connect with your audience:
Begin with behavior. Offer your audience a way to take an action that makes a difference.
Find foolproof photos. Show the faces and places affected by your message.
Swap the shoptalk. Use plain language. It may not be as precise as you may want it to be, but it will most likely be a lot more effective.
Insert the words that work. Use words that are important to your audience! Clean, future, safe, family, save money, and responsibility are just a few words and phrases to which people respond.
Using simple and easy-to-understand terminology isn't "dumbing down" concepts for the public or your employees, but rather, it's a way, as Water Words That Works states, to "turn those blank stares into nodding heads—to turn passive "environmental awareness" into environmental action."
Do you have any experience with effective, simple communication used in your company's sustainability programs? Have you had any difficulties with overly "technical" communications?