Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments

Reach Out & Communicate about Climate & Energy

Connecting with partners and the community is an essential element of any successful program, project, or policy. While it is especially important in projects that engage the community, projects to promote green government operations or adopt a policy will also benefit from smartly designed plans to engage and communicate with stakeholders. Local entities can use outreach plans to earn community buy-in and project support before, during, and after implementation. Project teams that engage many stakeholders, such as decision-makers, community members, and experts early and often can increase the likelihood of project success.

Framework pages


This phase covers both one-way and two-way communications.

  • one arrow One-way communication refers to efforts to share information and may be used to raise awareness, educate the public, and share successes.
  • two arrows Two-way communication includes outreach that encourages a dialogue and may be used to gather information about target audience needs or habits; coach business owners through an energy upgrade; request that residents make a sustainability pledge; gather feedback on project plans; or discuss implementation logistics with building staff.

Both types of outreach are valuable and can be used before, during, and after project implementation. It is likely that a program or project may include both one-way and two-way communications for different parts of the project. Using research and conversation to get to know your target audience will increase the effectiveness of both one-way and two-way communication. To maximize the effectiveness of both forms of outreach, use simple messages, repeated often over multiple channels, from trusted sources.

The keys steps presented here will help you to develop and implement an effective strategy to engage the community and communicate key messages. The steps are organized around six basic questions: why, who, what, when, where, and how?

Key Steps

Printer IconPrintable Checklist

Communication Pathway DiagramView Diagram

The exact process for engaging and communicating will vary by project and entity. Here we outline several key steps likely to be part of any outreach process. The steps are not necessarily intended to be pursued in linear order. It is likely that several of the steps will be done simultaneously, as shown in the diagram. Although each step is necessary to develop a successful outreach plan, the scope of each step can be calibrated to your project and available resources.

Outreach diagram
  • Step 1. Define Objectives

    It is very important that all decisions related to your communications strategy are clearly informed by what you are trying to accomplish. Stay focused on why you are conducting outreach or engaging in communications activities. Before you identify your target audience and how you will reach them, take a moment to clearly articulate the objectives of your communications strategy.

    You will likely have one or two overarching communications objectives that clearly support overall project success. For example, a communications objective might be to raise awareness of the benefits of energy efficiency technologies or to understand the barriers to community use of alternate transportation options. Additionally, you may have multiple specific objectives related to individual target audiences and times for outreach. For example, an objective early in the project may be to increase buy-in and support from key decision-makers, while an objective later in the project may be to share project successes with the public to justify similar efforts in the future. These communications objectives inform all the decisions you make regarding audience, messages, timeline, channels, methods, and messengers. They can also help you recalibrate if initial communications efforts are not successful in accomplishing key outreach objectives that support the project goals.

    As you develop objectives for your strategy to engage and communicate with stakeholders, think about:

    • The overarching goals for your project. See the Set Goals & Select Actions phase for more information.
    • How outreach and stakeholder engagement can support the project and project goals.
    • Whether any stakeholders need to take action to accomplish project goals (e.g., project partners, community members).
    • Whether any stakeholders or members of the community will be affected by this project. What do they need to know?
    • Whether any information or feedback you gather will ensure the success of the project.

    Below is a list of sample objectives, along with an indication of whether the objectives are better served by one-way or two-way communications. Remember that even one-way efforts are enhanced by a strong understanding of your audiences, and that two-way communications can help you develop that strong understanding. (Step 2 has more information on understanding your audience.)

    • Increase project buy-in
    • Gather feedback on project plan
    • Increase financial project support
    • Understand stakeholder needs
    • Share information related to project
    • Educate the public
    • Raise awareness about available resources (e.g. energy efficiency rebates)
    • Promote a program
    • Encourage behavior change
    • Share successes to encourage continued activity

    As noted, the overall objectives for engaging and communicating will clearly inform all stages of outreach. If you develop plans for an outreach strategy that do not support your stated objectives, revisit the strategy or reconsider the objectives.

  • Step 2. Define and Understand Audiences

    To develop an effective outreach strategy, you will want to clearly define and get to know who you are trying to reach. Understanding your target audiences will help you to identify the most effective messages, times to engage, channels, methods, and messengers. Different groups of stakeholders will have different motivations, values, and barriers, and will access information in different ways.

    To identify your target audiences, ask the question: Who does the program need to reach or engage to accomplish your program and communication objectives? You may have more than one target audience based on your objectives.

    Consider the following groups as you identify your audiences. Also consider coordinating with organizations that are working on projects with similar goals.

    • Low-income residents
    • Minority populations
    • Neighborhood associations or block groups
    • Non-profits
    • Other jurisdictions or local entities
    • Potential program funders
    • Renters
    • Residents
    • Students
    • Universities
    • Utilities
    • Volunteers
    • Other

    Consider whether your selected target audiences will help achieve the overall project and communication goals. For example, if you are talking to businesses and residents about global climate change, focus your efforts on groups and individuals who are likely to engage on the topic. Periodically check in with audiences who were previously unsupportive to ensure that potential new supporters are engaged.

    For example, research completed by Yale University segmented the U.S. population into six categories ranging from "alarmed" to "dismissive" about global warming (see figure).

    Climate Change Alarm Chart

    Their research suggests that if you want to engage community members to take action on climate change, you would be best served by focusing your efforts on engaging stakeholders in the first four categories: “alarmed,” “concerned,” “cautious,” and “disengaged.” Focusing on the middle two categories may be most effective, because outreach is likely to have the largest effect on the “cautious” and “disengaged” stakeholders, who might become more engaged or concerned with more information. Meanwhile, the “alarmed” and “concerned” stakeholders are already supportive of climate change action. The “cautious” and “disengaged” audiences may take action if they have sufficient access to information.

    Once you have identified who you need to engage, it is important to better understand what motivates them, what they value, how they receive information, and who they trust. This understanding will inform future steps through the engagement process. If you are promoting behavior change, work to understand any barriers that prevent your target audience from engaging in that behavior.

    To get to know your audiences, consider having informal 10-minute phone calls or meeting for coffee with representative members, using focus groups, conducting a pilot study, phasing the project release, researching similar efforts to help test and improve your communications strategy, or using community-based social marketing techniques. These types of activities may also be appropriate as you complete Steps 3–6. You may find that some of your target audiences can be grouped together or that you need to segment your audiences into smaller groups that share motivations, values, and barriers.

    For each of the following steps, continue to ask the question: Does this decision help me reach my target audiences?

  • Step 3. Develop and Test Key Messages and Frames

    In Steps 1 and 2 you set the groundwork for developing effective messages. At this point, you should know why you want to reach your target audiences and who you want to reach. Effective key messages will help you use what motivates your target audiences to accomplish your objective.

    Remember to use simple messages, repeated often from trusted sources. The less you say, the more you are heard.

    Frame your messages in a way that resonates with your target audiences. Frames or framing refer to how you present or package an idea and can matter as much as the idea itself. Present or frame your messages with language, images, and points that are meaningful and easily understood by your audiences. When working across ideological differences, search for common ground, goals, and values. Consider using the following steps to tailor effective messages.

    • Research: What messages have been used effectively to encourage action for similar projects in other jurisdictions or local projects that target similar audiences? Look for information about your audience online or reach out to other communities or groups that are doing similar work. If you are running a program to increase recycling, consider reviewing the key messages used in other jurisdictions. If your target audience is students, talk to staff members who were responsible for running programs that target students. You may find that some of your most useful lessons about messaging come from projects that appear unrelated to your objectives.
    • Ask and listen: What does your audience say they want? Ask stakeholders what they value and draw connections to the project goals. If you are working on a project to promote a behavior (e.g., to increase transit ridership), ask people why they do or do not currently engage in that behavior. Be open to constructive criticism and opinions that may contradict your initial thoughts on the project. Asking stakeholders for input, then choosing not to act on it may alienate the people you are seeking to engage.
    • Test your message: Is your message effective? Start by developing several possible messages that promote your objectives. Test the different messages on focus groups or pilot groups before broadcasting it more broadly. You may find that small changes in language can have a significant impact on how the message is received.
    • Phase your rollout: If the project timeline permits, try to phase your message rollout. Phasing can allow you to adjust messages prior to sharing it with the entire target audience.

    As you develop messages, consider the following important tips:

    • Different audiences may be motivated by different things. Tailor the message to each audience and channel. You may want to divide your audiences into groups (or segments) and target them with group-specific messages (e.g., use three different utility bill inserts for residential, commercial, and institutional buildings). The same message or objective can be framed in different ways to cater to different audiences. For example, Denver Energy Challenge project staff in Denver, Colorado, asked participants what motivated them to take steps to adopt energy-efficient appliances and practices. They found that businesses were primarily motivated by cost savings and homeowners were primarily motivated by increased comfort. Consequently, the project staff adjusted their messages when communicating with these two groups of stakeholders.
    • Remember language considerations. Translate messages into common local languages. For example, if there is a large Spanish-speaking population, provide translated materials.
    • Present complex information in language that is accessible to your audience. Simplify information and be sure to use an appropriate reading level. Scientific information can be particularly inaccessible to general audiences. For example, La Plata County, Colorado worked with the Durango Discovery Museum to develop hands-on lesson plans and activities to teach kids about climate and energy.
    • Use local vernacular or terms. For example, in Maryland the term “environmental site design” is used to refer to practices commonly known as “green stormwater infrastructure” or “low impact development” in other locations.
    • Use a story-telling approach to help the audience become familiar with the program. Stories are often more convincing and tangible than data. Similarly, visual imagery is often more compelling than words or numbers. For example, the City of Arlington, Texas, presented the annual city budget in an easily accessible videoExit. The Town of Cary, North Carolina, built a Climate Showcase Fire Station where it could host public tours to highlight green building principles used in the construction.
    • Present a positive message. People are more likely to join a program that offers co-benefits than one that demands a sacrifice. For example, the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Office in Austin, Texas, gives away bookmarks with pro-transit messages as part of its Commute SolutionsExit program, reinforcing the idea that people can recover additional leisure or hobby time during their daily commute.
    • Consider creating a brand. This might include developing a recognizable logo, a catchy tagline, and/or a memorable name for the program or the group that is implementing the program. Salt Lake City, Utah, used the tagline “Drive Less, Drive Smarter” to remind residents to consider alternative transportation options.
    • Create new social norms to promote behavior change. This might include using community-based social marketing. For example, Idle Free UtahExit began their campaign to reduce idling in school parking lots because the concentrated collection of parents, students, teachers, and staff during school drop-off and pick-up times made idling highly visible, presenting an opportunity to introduce a new self-regulating social norm: to turn off car engines during drop-off and pick-up.
    • Collaborate. Work with organizations that have related, but different, messages to reach new audiences. For example, work with groups focused on energy independence instead of just environmental groups to promote electric vehicles. Emphasize that electric vehicles can contribute to domestic energy security.

    See EPA’s Effective Practices for Implementing Local Climate and Energy Programs: Effective Messaging for more tips from the Climate Showcase Communities.

  • Step 4. Develop a Timeline

    When developing a timeline for outreach, take into account both project timing needs and audience preferences, as well as resources available for outreach. Look for opportunities to repeat your message often, through multiple channels, to maximize your impact. You may also find that you need to revisit and adjust your timeline after you identify channels, methods, and messengers (Steps 5 and 6). As you develop an outreach timeline, consider

    1. When critical project milestones would benefit from outreach or communications activities. For example, are there critical decision-points that would benefit from stakeholder input?
    2. When the target audiences are likely to be most receptive to hearing messages or engaging in a conversation. For example, can you leverage existing meetings or other communications opportunities?

    Develop a timeline for communications that balances both of these considerations. You may find that you want to adjust your project timeline to accommodate existing opportunities to engage your key audiences (e.g., normally scheduled community meetings) or advertisement schedules (e.g., some magazines have specific topics planned for each month and the project may benefit from scheduling an article for release during a specific edition). Alternatively, you may need to engage your audience based solely on the project timeline. Each project has a unique set of resources and goals, so the times to engage will vary.

    Remember to engage your stakeholders early and often. People are likely to be more receptive to new ideas and actions if they have been part of the conversation from the beginning and they feel their input is considered in implementation. Engage stakeholders and the public at a point when their input can still influence the project and be clear about how you are going to use their input.

    There are many reasons to conduct outreach and communications throughout the project cycle. Click each of the boxes in the diagram to see suggested reasons and opportunities for outreach during each phase. Based on your objectives, determine the best times to reach out to your audiences over the course of the project.

    • Develop GHG Inventory
    • Track & Report
    • Reach Out & Communicate
    • Take Action
    • Set Goals & Select Actions
    • Obtain Resources

    There are many reasons to conduct outreach and communications throughout the project cycle. Click on each of the items above to see suggested reasons and opportunities for outreach in each phase. Based on your objectives, determine the best times to reach out to your audiences over the course of the project.

  • Step 5. Identify Channels

    Now that you have defined your objectives (Step 1), defined your target audiences (Step 2), developed key messages (Step 3), and decided when it will be appropriate to reach out to your stakeholders (Step 4), it is time to determine where you will reach your audiences. This step may happen simultaneously with Step 6, when you decide how to engage your audiences. Additionally, you may need to adjust your timeline (Step 4) to accommodate the use of specific channels.

    Consider how each target audience currently receives information. Communication channels refer to the method of transmission (e.g., online). In Step 6 you will consider creative methods, specific sources, and individual messengers to carry the message to your target audiences (e.g., an entry written by a well-known local blogger).

    Use channels familiar and comfortable to the audience. For example, a Smartphone application or a text message campaign may be an effective method to reach some, but not all, audiences, while a radio campaign may be more effective with other audiences. Remember to repeat messages from trusted sources often, over multiple channels. The more places an audience encounters a message, the more likely they are to remember it. Consider your target audiences and objectives as you select the most appropriate channels. Keep in mind that some channels are more appropriate for one-way communications, while others are better suited to two-way communications. Consider the following channels:

    •  Television – local stations or programs
    •  Print media – local or regional newspaper, magazine, or newsletters
    •  Radio – local or regional radio stations
    •  Mail – direct mail to target audiences, including utility bill inserts
    •  Printed Handouts – flyers, door-hangers, yard signs, stickers, or other forms printed by the project
    •  Internet – blogs, websites, social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare)
    •  E-mail – messages directed to target audiences (individuals or listservs), may include interactive links
    •  Phone – text messages or phone calls
    •  In-person – person-to-person conversations, community events, or trainings

    Understand the ways people interact with different channels and craft the timing and substance of your message accordingly. For example, if using social media, cross-post media on different online platforms with content linking to each other; post daily messages on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to maintain a reliable presence; and post at the appropriate time of day to maximize readership on a particular platform. Use existing studies, such as the Pew Research Center's Internet ProjectExit to identify social networking sites frequented by your target audiences.

  • Step 6. Select Methods and Trusted Messengers

    The final step in developing your communications plan is to select your methods and trusted messengers. This step determines how your audience will receive the message—in what format and from whom. Note that it may make sense to identify methods and messengers at the same time as you identify channels (Step 5). How you choose to deliver messages may also require you to revisit your timeline (Step 4).

    Be creative as you come up with strategies to get your messages out. There are many creative methods that can be used to engage stakeholders. See the table below for suggestions.

    Identify trusted sources to deliver your message. Who delivers your message can be as important as how it is delivered. Trust is significantly more valuable than expertise when it comes to how stakeholders perceive communications. Once you have selected your methods, identify people, organizations, and channels trusted by your audience and engage them as project champions. Refer to Step 2 and remember different messengers will be more effective with different audiences. For example, are there particular community members, political figures, websites, or radio hosts the community respects that could carry your message? Trusted sources may include a group (e.g., a church, a local organization, city council), individuals (e.g., the mayor, a local celebrity, the weatherman, a radio personality, a neighbor), or a specific channel (e.g., the local newspaper, specific television or radio stations). When reaching out to specific organizations, identify which individuals are best able to reach the members.

    Where possible, have trusted messengers and sources share messages about the project. Engage and empower stakeholders to spread the message on your behalf to serve as an extension of project staff. They can author emails, write letters to the editor in local newspapers, participate in interviews, make announcements at events, or organically spread the word.

    As you select methods and messengers, make sure that your plan helps to forward your objectives with your target audiences.

    The table below summarizes a variety of different methods, along with the associated channels. As you consider this table, tap into the creativity of your staff and volunteers to identify the best ways to engage your target audiences. This list is by no means exhaustive! Click on the information icons in the first column to see explanations, tips, and illustrative examples.

    Method Television Print Media Internet Radio Printed
    In Person Mail E-mail Phone
    Methods ideal for one-way communication
    Purchased media   x x x x          
    Earned media   x x x x          
    Testimonials   x x x x x x x x  
    SMS marketing                   x
    Promotional or instructional video   x   x            
    Methods suitable for either one-way or two-way communication
    Community events           x x      
    Community meetings             x      
    Informational campaign   x x x x x x x x x
    Peer-to-peer exchange       x   x x   x  
    Door-to-door canvassing           x x      
    Website with project information       x            
    Interactive games       x     x      
    Smartphone application   x x x x x x x x  
    Direct mail   x x x x x x x x  
    Promotional items   x x x x x x x x  
    Discrete actions   x x x x x x x x x
    Measure success   x x x x x x x x x
    Challenges   x x x x x x x x x
    Methods ideal for two-way communication
    Neighborhood parties   x x x x x x x x  
    Green teams           x x      
    Coaching       x   x x x x x
    Incentives   x x x x x x x x x
    Awards   x x x x x x x x x
    Pledges       x     x x x x

    One-Way Communication Methods

    • Purchased media: Purchase advertisements for TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, or the Internet (e.g., paid social media advertising or promoted posts). Consider advertisements at local events, such as high school sporting events or local fairs.
    • Earned media: Instead of paying for media, which can be costly, work to get your stories covered for free by local media sources, such as local newspapers, popular blogs, or public service announcements. Use a compelling story to attract the attention of reporters. Cultivate relationships with local news outlets, editors, and reporters who cover the topic. Consider pitching your stories or sending draft articles to staff at the local radio station, newspaper, television station, or online media platforms, like blogs. When writing press releases, consider writing them like articles so that they are easy for newspapers and magazines to pick up.
    • Testimonials: Highlight success stories from early adopters, program champions, or other participants to encourage future action or adoption of a program. Explain why your project matters. Start with a small budget to demonstrate value. Incorporate text and images into videos. Ask open-ended questions during interviews. Testimonials can be disseminated through online videos, a Twitter campaign, a Facebook page, an editorial column in the newspaper, a story on the local news, at events, or in print and electronic publications.
    • SMS marketing: Short message service (SMS), or text messaging service, is a component of most phones and other mobile communication systems. Many businesses are now using text messages to provide customers with special sales. Consider using text messages as a quick way to provide stakeholders with important information. For example, Salt Lake City, Utah sends text alerts to let participating residents know about poor air quality days.
    • Promotional or instructional video: With modern technology, producing a video or recorded presentation can be relatively inexpensive. Online videos can be hosted on a free website such as YouTube and links can be shared through e-mail, text messages, social media, blogs, and other online portals. For example, the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Transportation Department YouTube channelExit is used to post videos such as a 2-minute video to promote the Solar Ready IIExit project in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area.

    One- or Two-Way Communication Methods

    • Community events: Participate in existing events or host your own. This may include hosting a booth at the county fair to disseminate information, entering a float in a local parade to increase visibility and project recognition, or planning an independent event. Leveraging meetings and events held by others can help you to reach broader audiences with lower time and resource investment. For example Hailey, Idaho, entered a float in the Fourth of July parade to share information about their solid waste reduction efforts. Meanwhile, Eugene, Oregon hosts “Sunday Streets,”Exit an annual event that promotes healthy, active living. Finally, the Louisville Sustainability CouncilExit in Louisville, Kentucky co-hosted a sustainability summit attended by about 175 participants to discuss their sustainability plan, which includes efforts to mitigate the heat island effect. Consider using an interactive platform, such as a touchscreen, to provide an opportunity for visitors to access and provide information at community events.
    • Community meetings: Invite community members and stakeholders to a meeting where project information will be presented. Such meetings typically include a period for questions and answers. Some community meetings may be designed to include a period for idea exchange in a workshop format or specifically to gather feedback.
    • Informational campaign: Educate the public by distributing materials and hosting classes or programs to help spread information about the desired actions. For example, the Cambridge Bicycle ProgramsExit in Cambridge, Massachusetts developed and distributed informational materials, including bike maps, and hosted educational events including bike registration and on-bike training. Make desired behaviors visible to encourage others. For example, have people pick up community shared agriculture (CSA) boxes at a central location rather than delivering to homes.
    • Peer-to-peer exchange: Use social media on existing networks and enthusiasm in your community to pass information from person to person. This can result in a “viral” spread of information—meaning the rapid spread of Internet content through social networks.
    • Door-to-door canvassing: Use volunteers or paid canvassers to go door to door and talk to businesses or residents in person. For example, community volunteers in Durham, NC, solicited energy efficiency retrofit participants by conducting door-to-door outreach. In Corvallis, Oregon, student volunteers went door to door inviting people to try three energy-saving actions for the Communities Take ChargeExit program.
    • Website with project information: Host a website with all of the project information in one place. Partner with other groups to help build and maintain websites. Drive traffic to the website by using RSS feeds and cross-posting content and links in e-mails, newsletters, and social media. Ask retailers and other partners to promote the website. Websites are great places to post other program products, such as videos, promotional flyers, and informational materials. In addition, ask website visitors to provide information—websites may be used to collect information, as well as to disseminate it. For example, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Open PV ProjectExit provides a great deal of information about solar power and includes a data link that allows users to contribute to the project by uploading information about their projects.
    • Interactive games: Games can be used in person or on the Internet to share information about a project or encourage stakeholders to take action. For example, Clean Energy Durham in Durham, North Carolina used a bingo game as part of its home energy efficiency workshops with the local Spanish-speaking community.
    • Smartphone application: Develop a portal for users to engage with the campaign or gather information on their Smartphone to promote participation. Consider coupling this strategy with an interactive game, the ability to track progress, or a challenge to meet.
    • Direct mail: Although people are increasingly gathering information online, direct mail can be an effective method for targeting households or businesses within a specified area (e.g., by ZIP code or city). Inserts in utility bills may be used to target individuals for an energy efficiency, water conservation, or waste reduction project.
    • Promotional items: Swag is one way to help promote project information or increase brand recognition. Consider developing yard signs, car stickers, refrigerator magnets, buttons, or other free giveaways. Select swag carefully to avoid creating unnecessary waste with items of limited use. Identify objects that forward your mission. For example, the North Central Texas Council of Governments has given away items such as tire gauges with air quality messages to promote users to improve their fuel economy by inflating their tires to the appropriate pressure.
    • Discrete actions: Develop action checklists to provide people with discrete steps to take. Checklists can encourage people to adopt new behaviors. For example, a community might encourage residents to use reusable grocery bags, replace two incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient LEDs, and run the dishwasher on a 4-hour delay so that it runs during off-peak hours.
    • Measure success: Create a calculator to show participants how much they saved by making a change. People are more likely to take action if they are reminded that their action makes a valuable impact. Illustrate cumulative impacts on a map or other graphic to show how the individual actions build to an impactful whole (e.g., a “heat map” of electric vehicle charging stations, bikeshare registrations, or solar installations). Consider using animations to show cumulative effects over time.
    • Challenges: Implement challenges or competitions to promote innovation within the program and increase motivation. Make challenges simple, with clear incentives and criteria. Consider providing prizes for winners, including multiple smaller prizes. Recognize successful participants, including employers that offer incentives or other encouragement to their employees. Consider including mini challenges within the overall challenge to keep people interested and engaged. Aim for breadth of participation—people may join because they do not like to feel left out. Be sure to change things up to keep the campaign fresh. For example, Charge Ahead Durham in Durham, North Carolina uses weekly and monthly challenges to engage participants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

    Two-Way Communication Methods

    • Neighborhood parties: Identify hosts to talk to their neighbors about the effort. For example, the Durham Neighborhood Energy Program in North Carolina and the Frederick County Green Homes Challenge in Maryland both used this neighbor-to-neighbor approach to successfully promote residential energy efficiency upgrades. In Eugene, Oregon, transportation ambassadors were trained to spread information about alternative transportation to their neighbors.
    • Green teams: Promote the creation of green teams or sustainability groups to increase the capacity to implement project actions at the business, block, or neighborhood level. Ensure green teams are representative of the larger group and include key decision-makers. Identify a champion or leader on each green team to inspire and motivate people. For example, the Land-of-Sky Regional Council (12 pp, 1.32 M, About PDF) in North Carolina helped 18 schools in the region initiate green teams that empowered students and teachers to collaborate on recycling and energy reduction projects.
    • Coaching: Use direct assistance as a method for encouraging implementation and ensuring successful adoption of new practices. For example, the Chicago Area Energy Savers ProgramExit in Illinois worked with energy analysts to coach building owners through the retrofit process. Owners enjoyed a single point of contact with whom to wade through an otherwise complex process.
    • Incentives: Use incentives (e.g., door prizes, lotteries, coupons) to encourage potential participants to try a new action or adopt a new practice. For example, in Corvallis, OR, Communities Take ChargeExit participants receive an electronic coupon card for discounts at local businesses when they report back on their energy-saving pledges.
    • Awards: Use awards or certificates to reinforce the concept of accountability, increase the visibility of a program, and recognize and demonstrate appreciation for participants.
    • Pledges: Ask program participants to make a verbal or written commitment to take an action, ideally in a public way. Commitments promote accountability and increase the likelihood that participants will follow-through on their actions. Small commitments can lead to larger commitments in the future. For example, the Green Cincinnati Plan in Ohio included a campaign asking residents to take a pledge and commit to increasing their purchase of local foods.

Case Studies

Eugene, Oregon: SmartTrips
A Climate Showcase Communities project that developed an individualized outreach program to reduce the number of single-occupancy trips made in cars.


Salt Lake City, Utah
A Climate Showcase Communities project that used effective community-based social marketing to improve existing vehicle travel reduction programs. A toolkit is available to help organizations seeking to replicate the program.


Acterra: Green@HomeExit
Program that trains volunteers to provide energy audits to their neighbors and to install simple energy-saving devices (e.g., CFLs, indoor clotheslines).


Madison, Wisconsin: Mpower ChaMpions
A Climate Showcase Communities project that worked with local businesses and schools to reduce GHG emissions, with “Lunch and Learns” and a sustainable business network, and by sharing program case studies.


Corvallis, Oregon: Communities Take ChargeExit
A climate showcase communities program that encourages participants to focus on three energy saving actions each month to earn energy prize points.

Tools and Templates

EPA ENERGY STAR® Challenge Toolkit
Communication materials that provide information on energy efficiency and how to get involved with ENERGY STAR, including sample event ideas and promotional items to set up an ENERGY STAR Challenge.


ICLEI's Green Business ChallengeExit
Resources and sample materials to help local governments develop and launch a Green Business Challenge, including a customizable Web application for Green Business Challenge programs. (An ICLEI subscription is required.)


EPA's Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator
A tool to translate GHG emission reductions into everyday terms, which can be useful for communicating the program’s goals and outcomes.


Rasmuson Foundation's Strategic Communications Plan Template (6 pp, 587 K, About PDFExit
An organization-targeted template users can apply to a community project.


MindTools' Communications Plan WorksheetExit
Worksheet to help structure a communications plan.

Further Reading

EPA’s Effective Practices for Implementing Local Climate and Energy Programs
A series of 19 tip sheets based on direct feedback from the Climate Showcase Communities covering topics like: effective messaging, testimonial videos, traditional media strategies, community-based social marketing, and working with various stakeholder groups.


DOE's Clean Cities Tips for Public OutreachExit
Tips for communicating with stakeholders and the public, using social media, contacting local media, writing press releases, and producing videos.


Resource Media’s Seeing Is BelievingExit
Best practices informed by the latest research, and tools on visual storytelling.


The Goodman CenterExit
Website that provides resources for communication through presentations, storytelling, and advertising.


EPA's State and Local Branch Communications Webcast Series
A three-part webcast series on communications strategies and methods covering methods of gaining support and attracting participation, sustaining behavior change, and showcasing program successes.

EPA would like to acknowledge Abby Young (Bay Area Air Quality Management District); Carly Lettero (Energize Corvallis); Lori Clark, Shane Pace, and Shannon Stevenson (North Central Texas Council of Governments ); Kate Lohnes (Salt Lake City, Utah); Matthew Mehalik (Sustainable Pittsburgh), and Jen McLoughlin (Woodbury, Minnesota) for their valuable input and feedback as stakeholder reviewers for this page.