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Storytelling Helps Overcome Barriers to Adopting Climate Solutions

Amelia Nuding shares with Colleen how the public can get involved in clean energy adoption and water conservation in her video interview for Bloomcradle.com. (Photo: Colleen Ward)

Colleen Ward

I grew up in beautiful Colorado and experienced multiple impacts of climate change firsthand. They have shaped my passion to communicate and drive climate actions that we can all take.

I was at my childhood home when our house flooded overnight. Unaware of the extent of the widespread flooding in the morning, I started driving down a hill until I saw the road and entire valley was submerged under a large body of flowing water – only a few feet away from me. I have also experienced wildfires and tornadoes. As I write this from where I now live in Vermont, a fire is burning near my old high school and destroying forests I grew up in. These events have destroyed my family and friends’ longtime homes and neighborhoods and continue to threaten their safety and health.

Seeing your community in flames, underwater, or facing any climate catastrophe stops you in your tracks. You ask yourself, “What can I do? “What can we all do?”

People in the U.S. hold immense power to mitigate carbon emissions, shape energy policy decisions, and address the climate emergency. We all have the opportunity to protect the people and places we love.

Nearly 70% of people in the United States “feel a personal sense of responsibility to help reduce global warming” according to the 2021 study, “Climate Change in the American Mind” by the Yale Center for Climate Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Communication.

While everyone plays a crucial role, most people do not know that we, as individuals, can be part of climate solutions that make an impact. Most individuals don’t know what specific actions they can take to reduce carbon emissions, which actions provide the highest carbon reductions, or how to adopt clean technologies. Right now, in Vermont, more residents need to be empowered to take actions that mitigate carbon emissions immediately to address the climate emergency and meet Vermont’s state climate goals. According to the Yale Center for Climate Communications, 65% of Vermont residents are worried about global warming. These alarmed and concerned groups are the prime individuals to be a part of climate solutions. However, these individuals may not be engaged in the most proven, effective solutions and strategies from the clean tech industry.

Solution-oriented, human-centered storytelling is the most effective method for driving behavior change, as supported by studies from the Yale School for Climate Communication, Columbia University, George Mason University, EcoAmerica, and others. These studies demonstrate that first-hand personal stories have the power to build empathy, shape mindsets, and change behaviors to participate in climate solutions.

These leading voices are studying the psychology that motivates climate action and have found that local, personal stories are a key strategy to drive behavior change. Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions Guide specifically suggests the following principles: know your audience, tap into social identities and affiliations, make behavior change easier, encourage group participation, and utilize concrete experience.

Eric Bishop von Wettberg of South Burlington, Vermont shares his success with new rooftop solar installation during his video interview for Bloomcradle.com. (Photo: Colleen Ward)

It’s critical to rapidly engage and increase the number of people to go from the consideration to adoption phase of clean technologies. Testimonials are a form of storytelling that allows those interested to learn and connect to the person, and human stories of adopters of the technology. The adopter stories help answer questions, ease concerns, explain the full range of benefits, and provide those interested the confidence to adopt the technology knowing someone else went through it. There is plenty of evidence within clean energy industries that these principles work:

Data shows that there was a 44% increase in solar installations nationwide within a half-mile radius after one rooftop system was added.

Testimonials are the most effective tool for adoption of rooftop solar along with other clean technologies.

One-third of customers out of 230,000 SolarCity rooftop solar installations nationwide were referred by a friend or a neighbor.

“How to Get Involved” is the most viewed type of video across our Bloomcradle.com website videos, which hosts stories of individuals taking climate action.

Coupling testimonials with video (i.e., how the majority of Americans get their information) is a proven effective tool. Videos are a proven tool that drives climate behavior change and clean tech adoption from Yale Climate Communication studies, across U.S. utilities, and clean technology industries. People are looking for solutions and it’s time to engage every person with effective storytelling so they can be part of solutions.

These are the principles I have deployed with the non-profit I founded at Bloomcradle.com that reinforce these findings: capturing relatable stories on video of everyday people and other leaders taking actions generates increased action by their family, friends, neighbors and communities. In effect, we can all be climate heroes.

Colleen Ward is the founder and Executive Director of Bloomcradle, a Vermont-based climate action non-profit at Bloomcradle.com. Colleen has fifteen years of experience developing clean energy products and leading clean energy customer adoption programs and communications working at utilities, the United Nations, and with non-profits. She holds a Master of Science degree in Sustainability Management from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in Diplomacy and World Affairs from Occidental College.

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