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How To Make People Care About The Environment

How To Make People Care About The Environment
Making waves: Annie Leonard hopes to create relatable ways to get across complicated ideas. [Photo by Noel Spirandelli]

The problem

Environmental organizations often come off as wonky, piling on facts and figures to convince the public that they should care about pressing issues such as climate change. Maybe that’s why the message isn’t getting out: Just 40% of Americans believe that climate change is a major threat, and they recycle only 35% of their waste.

The epiphany

Nearly a decade ago, Leonard was giving a ­presentation at the ­Rockwood Leadership Institute. “I used my most data-filled, technical, sophisticated jargon,” she says. “At the end, one guy–who was really smart–said, ‘I have no idea what you just said.’ I realized you have to talk to people where they’re at, not where you’re at.”

The execution

Leonard started the Story of Stuff Project, which uses quirky illustrations and animations to explain heavy topics such as ­supply-chain efficiency. “We’re always talking about the dangers, risks, and threats. That might motivate certain people, but it’s also important to talk about solutions and how things can be better,” she says.

The result

Lego recently ended its relationship with Shell after a Greenpeace-­produced video of toy polar bears drowning in oil went viral–a victory Leonard is working to repeat. “There are people who have been issue experts at Greenpeace for 10 or 20 years,” she says. “They just need encouragement to look up and communicate.”AS