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Blog » How to talk about climate so people act (CAT Salon)

How to talk about climate so people act (CAT Salon)

This is a community-written summary of one of our CAT Salon events.

Find the recording of this talk here.


Photo of Ollie Burch

Ollie is a communications strategist who has worked across PR, advertising and branding to help communicate sustainability in ways that really work. With an academic background in sustainability he specialises in making complex topics engaging and interesting to non-specialist audiences. Recently he has focused on behaviour change campaigns around resource use issues.


The problem

  • We knew that we needed to act & had the tools back in the 1970s. Part of it was a communications problem.
  • Visual cliches in communicating climate in companies: 
    • Leaves, trees, circles
    • Windmills & solar panels out of context when they weren’t talking about renewable energy 
    • Cartoons & illustrations…  “stock sustainability” 
  • They aren’t persuasive — UK: 80% believe in climate change, only 10% think it will affect them

Why climate communication is difficult

We’re good with simple problems, and bad if something is complex

Psychological distances

  • Social: People like me?
  • Temporal: Now or in the future?
  • Spatial: Close or far away from me?
  • Experiential: Do I have to imagine it or have I experienced it?

A polar bear on a melting ice shell example doesn’t check any of these boxes, even if it provokes emotions.

Intention/action gap

  • People want to appear good / better than they are
    E.g. Green energy: Majority of people surveyed say they would switch & pay more. But only a small minority (<10%) actually do it. 
  • Barriers:
    • Perception that green products/services are worse E.g., cleaners. All the eco-versions were still on the shelf during the beginning of COVID.
    • Cost


  • Make it relevant! Root persuasion in understanding the audience identity & concerns.
    • E.g., Catholics + pope, US conservatives + protecting the nation
    • Frame  things in their worldview. Focus on the issue/action and less and on sustainability jargon
  • Bring it closer to home! Reduce the psychological distance.
    • E.g., biggest influence to getting a solar panel, is whether your neighbors have one
  • Make the right choice as easy & attractive as possible. Choice architecture. 
    • Visually attractive
    • Easy to do (framing the green choice as the default choice)
    • Example: Menu design

Questions we can ask ourselves in tech

Who changes things? Who gets to change the default? As part of what strategy? How can we (tech workers) support those people and help them act on climate change?

Discussion prompts

  • Did you have a moment where you talked to someone about climate and they just didn’t get it? What did you do?
  • How much trust do you put in companies and their sustainability statements? Poll? 1-10
  • What can you do with the information that you learned today?

Links & resources

Radley Yelder (Ollie’s workplace) reports



Companies that do interesting stuff

  • These guys are doing some interesting work in the advertising/creative space: Purpose disruptors — CAT member is involved and they’re open to anyone in “the creative industries”, in a wide sense. The current project there is The Great Reset, which is open for creative briefs; they also put together a 20-minute white paper to help pitch the concept to CEOs.
  • Climatemind: App that looks at what your values are and then shows you how your personal interests will be affected by climate change
  • Tech transformed