GreenSpeak 2: Effective Green Messaging

How you communicate your environmentally-green program is as important as how many cans your organization recycles, kilowatts hours you save, or automatic faucet shut-offs you install. If people don’t respond to your hard work, greening frustration can be one unanticipated outcome of your worthy efforts. What to do to get your greening messages heard and your green works supported? Here are a few good ideas learned from nonprofits all across the country.

  1. Walk the Talk. Marti Michaels at the Riverdale (New York) YMHA says they achieved their best results when they put real programs into action. Simply talking about their environmental efforts didn’t change behavior. But doing things that demonstrated action did. Their well-publicized environmental, family fair, where participants could drop-off old clothing, textiles, computers, and even old Purim costumes for recycling made going green fun and a true learning experience for everyone.
  2. Use Your Green Team as Your Speak Team. Almost every nonprofit I spoke with reported how critically important their volunteer green team members were to achieving results that stuck. Bob Keagy, Facilities Manager at the Education Development Center in Newton, Massachusetts, launched an employee green team to promote a greener office environment. Started two years ago, the team of volunteers is, according to Bob, “the driver of our program. They come up with the ideas. They even surveyed all our employees and got 300 responses from our 450 employees that led us to focus on recycling and reducing contamination.” Today EDC offers employees a used-battery drop-off, purchases fair trade coffee, compostable paper products and more.
  3. Involve Your Lay People. Rabbi Noah Zvi Farkas inherited a green team when he took his position at the Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue in Los Angeles two years ago. He discovered it was made up of mostly professionals with only 2-3 lay people. The result, according to Rabbi Farkas, was that the synagogue membership treated their greening program as a “professional effort” and largely stayed away. Through Rabbi Farkas’ involvement, more lay people were recruited for the green team and today the program is one supported widely by the congregation. Bobbi Rubenstein, a publicist and the synagogue’s green team chair, notes ” We are using all media to get our message out and to broaden the numbers of people in our congregation who will bring passion to our team and to the issue of environmentalism.”
  4. Pay Attention to All Your Constituents and Program with Them in Mind. Many organizations have diverse constituent groups representing a range of needs and interests. It pays to understand what green messages will resonate with each key constituent group before heading down a path that might end up going nowhere. Bobbi Rubenstein notes, “We have all ages, all cultures, seniors, young families, spread out across the Valley. We had to figure out how to get to our audiences and get them involved. Our CSA Food Produce/Family Farm program that brings locally produced, organic produce to our synagogue for easy distribution, has resonated with our younger demographic.” Families using the program have even started to text each other with recipes for some of the less-familiar produce they get, like dandelion greens.
  5. Build Support and Pride Through Publicity. Green-focused organizational leaders agree – getting your efforts publicized helps build internal support and makes everyone feel connected to something important. A strong media campaign centered on their green program got Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin lots of media attention which, in turn, made them important leaders in the environmental arena. Speaking engagements followed as did some great opportunities to expand their program. Rick Beckler, Director of Hospitality at the hospital, reports “Our staff wants us to do more. Because of them, we sent our old washing machines to needy Costa Rican Hospital to live another life. And all this helps us competitively. It helps us follow our mission and people respond to that.”

What are you doing to go green and how are you telling your green story?

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.