Thursday, 24 May 2001

PORTSMOUTH, N.H.

When you have a big agenda and a small organization, planning is everything, and today we dedicated the day to it. As the sun shone outside for the first time in a week, we worked away in the basement meeting room of a local hotel, piecing together a strategic communications plan.

Because Clean Air-Cool Planet’s main objective is to promote actions by individuals and institutions across the Northeast to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, effective communication is central to everything we do. We have to build on a growing awareness of global warming and energy problems to find ways to stimulate behavior change. Our first year has been spent building relationships with some leading businesses, universities, and municipalities, as well as with community organizations, so that we now have some great examples of actions to talk about and a network of contacts to help us get the word out.

Today’s meeting brought staff and board members together with four outside communications advisors who deal with energy and air pollution issues on a regular basis. CA-CP works with a range of partners on a rather large variety of projects throughout the Northeast, so there are a huge number of communications opportunities out there. Our challenges today were to set priorities so that we don’t spread ourselves too thin and to develop a detailed plan for the next 18 months.

The premise that got CA-CP started in the first place is that the Northeast can lead the nation in halting global warming, and that remains the central message in everything we do. Now we are beginning to tell the stories of regional leaders who are demonstrating the practical and economic advantages of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Regional businesses as diverse as organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm, communications giant Verizon, and the Connecticut metal plating company Whyco Technologies recognize that saving energy is good for business and the climate. Higher education institutes across the region, including Middlebury College, Brown University, and Rutgers University, are all implementing programs to reduce energy use, and a long list of cities and towns are moving to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

One of CA-CP’s first orders of business is to make sure that these and other stories get told. We want to inspire others to take action. We also want to broadcast the message loud and clear that we don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. We can have both — saving energy saves money. This message doesn’t seem to have broken through to the president’s energy team yet.

We have plenty of work ahead of us. We’re in the process of expanding our database of press and media contacts, as well as building relationships with journalists throughout the region. We need to find a low-cost way to keep our website relevant and regularly updated, and, as a new organization, we have to continue to work to establish our name in the region.

There was a lot of talk today about getting the message out and about how ideas are spread. Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is a great book to read on that topic. He argues that with the right combination of people who are early adopters, highly connected, or very persuasive, a really "sticky" idea can spread through society like a virus. We’re looking for the global warming solutions virus.

In the early summer, we plan to organize some focus groups with community leaders and do one-on-one interviews with corporate decision-makers to help determine what might motivate people to take action on global warming. It’s very important to understand what influences decisions if you are trying to change behavior. Our research will help us stay focused on programs that can really have an impact, and it will also help us communicate about climate and energy issues in a way that matters to people.