Talk Like a Corporate Environmentalist

It's a holiday week here in the US, so a good time for a lighter topic, namely how to talk like a corporate environmentalist. This is a topic which I've done extensive research over the last year, having attending dozens of environmental conferences, having given dozens of talks myself, and having listened to many dozens more.

Its also a timely topic, because at current growth rates, by 2010 there will be over 1,000 conferences with environmental themes each week in the US alone. This means that one out of every 7 US corporate employees will need to be giving environmental talks in order to staff all of these conferences, so its important that we start training those speakers now!

So here's two important techniques to being able to talk like a corporate environmentalist. Try these in your next talk - they'll guarantee that you'll be a hit!

#1 - Focus on The Improvement, Not What's Left to Fix

You'll never hear a corporate environmentalist get up and say "We've cut our methane emissions from 423 to 420 gzillion tons per year". People back at HQ will freak out if you say something like that. Instead, focus on the positive: "We've made dramatic methane emissions reductions of 3 gzillion tons per year!". Doesn't that sound better?

#2 - Make Emissions Accessible, but Not Too Accessible

It's really hard to visualize a ton of CO2 or a gigawatt of electricity, so its important to give your audience analogies that help make your statistics real. The basic approach is to compare to things people know, like cars or houses, as in "This reduction is the same as taking 13,000 cars off the road for a year", or "That's enough electricity to power 10,000 homes for a month. The problem is that someone in the audience might actually know some of these factoids, so you have to actually do the research and the math to make sure your comparisons are accurate - yuck!

Instead, experienced speakers will make comparisons which sound real, but are much less likely to ever be checked. The key is geographic locations and timescales which will demotivate even the most ardent fact checker. Recognizable, but not huge cities (e.g. Topeka, Milwaukee, Edinburgh, Columbus, Dresden), Canadian provinces and recently formed Eurasian countries are all great targets. "That's enough energy to light the homes in Estonia for 16 months" - wow! "That's the same as taking all of the cars in Alberta off of the road for a fortnight" - incredible!

Comments:

Here's a couple more examples for you, Doug. Granted, these are from articles, not speeches. "By installing [Sun Fire servers with CoolThreads technology ] in Sun's Broomfield, CO datacenter, Sun realized power savings of 617,000 kilowatt hours or cost avoidance of $40,000 in electricity, with an additional $60,000 of costs avoided in cooling."

617,000 kilowatt hours, down from what?!
...
"Sun has committed to lowering its greenhouse emissions and as a global climate leader, to affect a 20 percent reduction in CO2 by 2012."

20% from what to what?!

Source: Go Green!, Sun's corporate Web site

Posted by Ted Samson on July 11, 2007 at 04:52 PM EDT #

I'm sorry, Dave; I accidentally called you Doug in the previous post. :/

Posted by Ted Samson on July 11, 2007 at 04:53 PM EDT #

Ted, you are right on both accounts. We need to fix the website, since we publicly talk about the complete story. In the first case, it turns out that statement isn't even accurate: that particular project dropped the energy from 617kWh/yr to 39kWh/yr. In the second case, we are looking to cut 20% from 2002 levels by 2012. I believe we'll make it sooner. All of the details (including the baseline numbers) will be up soon and public on the Carbon Disclosure Project (cdreport.com), and are also available in our CSR report online.

Posted by David Douglas on July 12, 2007 at 06:55 AM EDT #

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