David Douglas is the VP of Eco Responsibility at Sun Microsystems. On his blog he provides some tips on how to talk like a Corporate Environmentalist.
#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!