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Education and Outreach

Human Network

Educating community members about climate change and other environmental concerns to a point where it results in behavior change, can be challenging. Although, when awareness of environmental issues is raised via targeted and well-publicized efforts, the experience gained by the local government can inform and inspire individual action, leading to substantial community-wide reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Campaigns that rely solely on providing information rarely have the ability to change people’s behavior. Instead, a successful outreach campaign will focus on understanding not only which actions support the behavior you are trying to promote, but also on the specific factors that influence people to take those actions. Research has identified a set of tools to promote behavior change: obtaining commitments, using prompts, utilizing social norms, designing effective communications, providing incentives, and removing external barriers. Not all tools need to be utilized in any one campaign, but note that they are most effective when used in combination with each other.


Getting Started

Here are some tips for starting your education and outreach process:

  • Assess your community members; what are the barriers and motivations to taking action on climate protection?
    Place a priority on listening to community members. A good assessment goes beyond learning about people’s knowledge, attitudes, and practices. It seeks to understand the specific barriers and motivations that influence their action or inaction. Assessments can be conducted through literature reviews, qualitative research (such as observation studies or focus groups), and surveys.

    Questions your assessment should uncover are:

    • What are the perceived barriers that prevent the target audience from taking action?
    • What are the perceived benefits they would receive if they changed their behavior?
    • Why is it in the best interest of the target audience to take action?
    • How can the barriers be lowered and the benefits increased? What incentives can be offered to the target audience to take action?
    • What is the target audience doing instead of the preferred action? What are the benefits they feel that they would be giving up?
  • Create a communications team to design and plan the outreach strategy.
    Using the information gathered during the assessment as your guide, design the outreach strategies, materials, and messages. Identify:

    • What are positive actions people can take to make a difference?

    • Who is the target audience?

    • What barriers need to be lowered and benefits need to be increased so that the target audience can take this action?

    • What the best way to reach and involve the target audience; what is the best combination of outreach and media strategies? (see also Community Engagement)

    • What other groups need to be involved as partners? (see also Developing Partnerships)

  • Pilot the new strategy and make any necessary revisions. Testing the message with a small group of the target audience will make certain that the strategy, message, logo, and materials have the desired effect. Modify as needed.
  • Hold a kick-off event to implement the new outreach strategy. Change does not happen overnight; provide positive feedback to the audience during the implementation process to reinforce the new behavior.
  • Monitor and evaluate the strategy, is it working? It is best to evaluate the process along the way to guide and shape the program. In order to be able to best evaluate the success of the program, it is important to set indicators and baselines during the planning stage so that new data can be compared to the baseline data.


Education and Outreach Strategies

  • Designing websites, distributing electronic newsletters, email messages

  • Creating brochures, print ads, flyers, and postcards for direct mailings; writing newspaper articles; placing sandwich boards around town

  • Holding workshops, festivals or fairs

  • Designing curriculum or lesson plans for grades K-12


How ICLEI Can Help

ICLEI members have access to case studies, best practices, guidebooks and other resources to assist your community in planning your education and outreach process.

Selected Resources:

  • ICLEI’s Communications and Outreach Guide

  • National Conversation on Climate Action, ICLEI USA, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Earth Day Network, America Speaks
    Through this program, communities all over the country can participate by hosting substantive, solutions-oriented, and action-driven dialogues about climate action at the local level. The National Conversation creates momentum in communities hosting events by building diverse coalitions, attracting media coverage and mobilizing citizens and decision makers – in both the public and private sectors – behind a common set of priorities.



  • Community-Based Social Marketing
    This organization provides a guide that illustrates how to use community-based social marketing to design and evaluate programs to foster sustainable behavior. Specific case studies, reports, and a listserv are also available.

  • Tools of Change
    Founded on the principles of community-based social marketing, this website offers specific tools, case studies, and a planning guide for helping people take actions and adopt habits that promote health and/or are more environmentally-friendly.

  • Heating Up Society to Take Environmental Action – A Guide to Effective Environmental Education and Communication (EE&C) , Academy of Educational Development’s Center for Environmental Strategies
    Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), this booklet summarizes the lessons learned from eight years of experience in over thirty countries. It provides environmental protection and natural resource managers, planners, and decision makers with insight on how EE&C can help them achieve their goals and objectives.



  • 10x10 Communication Plan, Jackson, WY
    The town of Jackson, WY and Teton County passed a resolution committing to reduce energy usage 10% by 2010. The Communications Action Team is charged with developing a communications strategy that relates the efforts and the initiatives of the Energy Efficiency Board, the Town Council and the County Commissioners to the employees of the Town of Jackson and Teton County, and later the community at large. [Case Study: Energy Efficiency Meets Fiscal Responsibility]

  • Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Design Ordinance (Article 22), Epping Planning Board, NH
    The Epping Planning Board passed Article 22 in March 2007, which requires non-residential developments to meet green building criteria. The Epping Planning Board spent six months educating the residents through a website, presentations, and outreach materials. [Case Study: Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Design]

  • Putney Energy Committee, Putney, VT
    This website is dedicated to informing residents on current initiatives going on in the town to reduce energy usage and promote efficiency. The site includes tips, resources, incentives, and an online discussion forum.

  • Bedford Energy Advisory Panel, Bedford, NY
    The panel's goal is to make positive changes in the town’s operation in order to promote a sustainable community. Their website includes advice on how to conserve energy, maximize natural resources, implement new technologies, examine alternate fuels and vehicles and suggest ways to reduce the town’s carbon emissions in a wide variety of ways.

  • Bedford Winter Energy Savings Toolkit, Bedford, NY
    This toolkit, which was mailed to all households in the town, advises residents on several strategies of how to save money and energy.

  • Marathon Green Initiative, Marathon, FL
    Citizens are asked to take 5 steps to reduce greenhouse emissions and air pollution.


Case Studies

  • Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Design, Epping, NH
    The Epping Planning Board passed Article 22 – Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Design, which requires non-residential developments to meet green building criteria, using a point system. This case study explains how through an extensive public education and outreach campaign the ordinance was implemented in the town.

  • Energy Efficiency Meets Fiscal Responsibility, Jackson, WY
    Realizing that energy efficiency efforts would also make fiscal sense, the Town of Jackson, WY, developed a communications message that highlighted the financial benefits.

  • An Innovative Approach to Energy Conservation and Efficiency, Shutesbury, MA
    Limited budgets required the Town of Shutesbury, MA to think of unique ways to meet its climate protection goals. Learn how Shutesbury looked to outside funding, created an energy committee, and worked with residents to achieve success.

  • Community Engagement, Northfield, MN
    The creation of a Energy Task Force allowed the City of Northfield, MN to work directly with the residents and make achievements towards community sustainability.


Community Engagement >>