For activists seeking to address climate change and sustainability issues, communication scholars are in a unique position to help them engage in effective public awareness campaigns.
The current state of—and the prospects for—climate and sustainability communication is the topic of a special section of October’s International Journal of Communication, edited by Lucy Atkinson, assistant professor of advertising in the Moody College of Communication.
The section brings together scholars from different communication disciplines and methodologies with the International Journal of Communication considered among the top academic publications for communication and humanities scholarships in the world.
It includes articles on audience segmentation for campaign design, the link between consumerism as activism, digital communication and social media, organizing, and news analysis.
As part of the issue, Atkinson also co-authored the article “Climate and Sustainability Communication Campaigns” with Connie Roser-Renouf, Edward Maibach and Anthony Leiserowitz. The article analyzes the underlying beliefs of “green purchasing” intentions in the United States.
“Green consumption has really come of age,” Atkinson said. “You can go to any store from Wal-Mart to Whole Foods and see store shelves overflowing with greener, environmentally friendly options such as organic cotton, fair trade chocolate or energy efficient CF light bulbs. What connects many of them is the idea that by being a smarter shopper, consumers can contribute, however small, to minimizing the effects of climate change.”
The authors draw on Bandura’s social cognitive theory—previously applied to political activism—and apply it to green purchasing. The researchers report the same key beliefs that underlie political activism relate to climate change and also help explain consumer activism.
Advertisers seeking to stimulate green consumption may use these findings to create messages that generate concern about global warming and climate change in addition to enhancing beliefs about the power of individual and societal consumer action.
“Efficacy is a consumer's belief that his or her actions will influence companies and is a key predictor of consumer activism,” said Atkinson. “And yet very few people in our study indicated they felt efficacious. Companies could increase the number of consumers willing to act by emphasizing corporate responsiveness.”
Atkinson said the special section of the journal emerged from a post-conference session she organized at the 2015 International Communication Association (ICA) meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The event was sponsored by the Environmental Communication, Health Communication, and Political Communication divisions of the ICA.