Case Studies

Vermont Land Trust – Communications Product Analysis Case Study

This communications example from Vermont Land Trust highlights some best practices in climate communications, including “recommendation 2 – find a trusted spokesperson”. Recommendations are posted in the side-bar for easy reference. Click here to view the full PDF. You can read additional analysis below the displayed product for more information.

Product Analysis

How this product showcases the recommendations:

1. Leading with politically neutral messages about conserving resources people already care about.

The story opens with a type of charismatic megafauna that most people are naturally curious about — a black bear — describing its unique behaviors and habitat needs in engaging detail to illustrate why it’s important to protect connected networks of natural areas.

2. Finding trusted spokespeople to deliver your messages.

There are two spokespeople introduced in the narrative, in strategic order. First, we meet a member of the target audience who has relevant expertise: Nancy Patch, a private landowner who is also a county forester, and whose husband is a logger. She is able to speak credibly about the value of intact, healthy forests because her livelihood depends upon it and gives her specialized knowledge about threats on the ground. With her local expertise, she can articulate that climate change is affecting a resource that people in Vermont depend upon for timber, maple syrup, and defining natural character. What makes the “Green Mountains” green?

Next, we meet a conservation biologist Liz Thompson, who explains how climate change “raises the stakes” for protecting large blocks of intact forest to support people whose livelihoods depend upon it, like Patch, and wildlife who need to move through it, like the bear. Thompson’s statements are stronger because they build on the foundation of Patch’s testimony, and reinforce the key role private landowners can play.

3. Focusing on local climate change impacts and responses, rather than on the causes.

The story identifies fragmentation as “the greatest problem” facing the Northern Forest and the human and natural communities that depend upon the resources it provides. Climate change is then presented as a supporting argument for protecting and connecting forests because it will exacerbate the impacts from existing threats. We then learn that private landowners can play a key role in addressing threats through examples of individuals who have donated or conserved their land.

4. Avoiding technical jargon, instead using language that can be understood by anyone.

Thompson, the conservation biologist, explains that by protecting forest we keep carbon “on the ground” rather than “in the atmosphere”, giving nature a chance to “adapt to rapid changes”. The statements are understandable, and convey a clear, visual message about carbon sequestration without digging into technical details.

5. Selecting photos that bring your messages to life.

Faces: The photo of landowners who have conserved or donated their land sitting on a pile of logged trees shows faces of relatable people in a relevant setting, and communicates that conservation and personal liberties don’t have to be at odds.

What could be improved? A photo of a black bear would have been a nice complement to the opening narrative.

Read more about the context of this product in an interview with Nadine Berrini, Director of Communications for the Vermont Land Trust here.