Five steps you can take to be an effective climate advocate

Companies will not be able to meet their net zero goals at the speed and scale required without advocating for climate policy. And professionals within those companies have come to the same realization – the most powerful tool that a company – and an individual– has to fight the climate crisis is their political advocacy. 

To help meet the growing demand for policy advocacy information and training on how to become effective climate advocates, we launched the Climate Corps Advocacy Initiative. To date this initiative has trained over 450 climate advocates and guided them to employ tactics to advance smart climate policies at the federal, state and local level. 

Becoming a climate advocate can seem intimidating, with even the most seasoned sustainability professionals becoming confused on how and where to start. But over the course of our trainings, we’ve honed in on the 5 most effective, battle-tested steps you can take to be an effective climate advocate:

1) Identify. Make a thoughtful choice about your climate advocacy issue.

The climate crisis is a broad challenge with subsets of potential advocacy avenues embedded into it. It’s important to narrow your focus on a specific climate advocacy topic (e.g. clean energy, environmental justice, clean transportation, etc). Don’t be afraid to get personal. You will be a better advocate if you personally believe in the solution. 

2) Collaborate. Seek out opportunities with like-minded people or organizations.

Advocacy is most effective when executed as part of a coalition or an organization. If there’s an existing climate advocacy organization that is organized around the topic you’re passionate about, you could inquire if there are opportunities to volunteer with that entity. If you’re looking for organizations to volunteer with, check out US Climate Action Network’s list of 190+ organizations active on climate change issues or take a look at some of the current advocacy engagement opportunities with EDF Action.

3) Define. Get a clear picture of the target audiences you’re trying to influence and analyze their powers.

In order to effect change on your climate advocacy topic, you first need to figure out what audiences you’re trying to influence and what specific powers they have to bring about the change you seek. For example, if you sought to block the construction of a coal-fired power plant in your hometown, your primary audience would be the elected Town Council Members who have the power to approve or reject the permit to build the plant, and your secondary audiences may be community leaders, electric utility representatives, small-business owners, or local residents who have power as constituents to influence the ultimate decision of the Town Council members. Among these audiences, it’s up to you to decide which will be allies to leverage and which will be opponents to neutralize.

4) Plan. Outline your climate advocacy goal(s) and list tactics to achieve those goal(s).

You’ve settled on a climate advocacy topic. You’ve joined a group or created your own coalition. You’ve even identified the primary and secondary audiences who have power to influence this topic and scoped out potential allies and opponents. Now it’s time to set an ambitious but realistic goal and list tactics or objectives to achieve the goal. When setting an advocacy goal, it’s best to keep it broad to start (e.g. get the City Council to pass a renewable energy resolution) and then narrow your focus with your tactics (e.g. identify 10 local residents to submit Letters to the Editor, obtain 100 petition signatures, schedule 1 in-person meeting with each Town Council member, etc).

5) Personalize. Humanize your communication to the audience(s) you’re trying to influence.

Personalize, personalize, personalize! When attempting to influence a policymaker on any given advocacy topic, invoking your personal connection via storytelling can be an extremely effective tool. For example, you may oppose the construction of a coal-fired power plant in your hometown not only because of the macro climate implications, but also because of the negative health impacts it may have on your family member with chronic asthma. 

To learn more about how to use storytelling in your climate advocacy, join Climate Corps’ upcoming Advocacy Storytelling Workshop on Wednesday, June 22, at 7:30pm ET / 4:30pm PT! Sign up here.