I just returned from the sold-out Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference, a three-day event examining ways to understand decision making on climate and energy. Here are a few ideas I took away:

  • There’s opportunity in teaching climate awareness. Gallup’s Anita Pugliese and George Mason University’s (GMU) Ed Maibach and Connie Roser-Renouf all pointed to two related items on climate awareness. First, awareness is surprisingly low across the globe. Only 16 percent of citizens in China understand climate change is real, human-caused, and a threat, while only half in many African and Middle Eastern countries have even heard of it. Second, literacy is actually declining in Europe and North America. The good news is that consumers are open to being engaged on the subject, so businesses may find an opportunity to build relationships through educating on climate issues, particularly in rural areas, where awareness is lowest.
  • Effective communication requires segmenting and targeting. Reaching people on climate and energy requires identifying the motivation for the discussion and parsing out who to engage and how. For example, if the aim is to discuss climate change broadly, said Tami Buhr of Opinion Dynamics Corporation, research the audience, especially political persuasions. Then, focus on their leverage point (e.g. for those with mixed feelings on climate, show why it’s a threat; for doubters, explain why we know what we know). Tailor it to include issues like foreign oil dependence, health, environment, and saving money—but only what they’ll be receptive to. Similarly, if the aim is inspire specific energy choices, says Jodi Stablein of PG&E, people take on many different personifications, only some of which will be moved by climate change. So say only what’s necessary.
  • “Behavioral economics” holds the keys. Many well-intended message are surprisingly counterproductive. OPOWER’s Robert Cialdini explained that a common—and destructive—mistake is to frame sustainability problems as "regrettably frequent,” which makes undesirable activities seem normal and can actually increase unwanted behavior. Better, appeal to people’s sense of stewardship by showing what positive actions have already been taken, then ask the audience to do their part. Also, suggested GMU research, address two protests (“I’m not an activist” and “It wouldn’t make a difference”) before they arise. Then, work to identify, train, and activate opinion leaders who are likely to take action and inspire others.

What do you think—what’s most useful to you about behavior with climate and energy?