Climate Conversation: Communicating Efficiently

by Jen Stevenson

Today we’re with Katie Weeks, Director of Communications at IMT (the Institute for Market Transformation). Her role ranges from resource production to strategic messaging. She always focuses on driving people to action on efficiency. We wanted to learn more about what this entails and what tools she uses to make her points clear. Read on to hear what Katie had to say!

Climable: What is your role at IMT? What led you there?

KW: I'm the communications director at IMT, which is a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. that focuses on driving wider demand for energy-efficient buildings. Essentially we work to have more people to ask for more efficient buildings more often, thus unlocking a treasure trove of untapped environmental, economic, and social benefits. As the communications director, I oversee IMT's organizational messaging and positioning across all of our outputs.

When I came to IMT five years ago, it marked a career shift that was driven by a personal desire to be working more on the ground on climate solutions. My background is editorial journalism and I spent most of my professional career writing about architecture and design. Over the years, I specialized in sustainability but began to feel too detached. I loved covering all the fantastic work being done to address climate for years, but increasingly wanted to be with a company that was dedicated to hands-on work. IMT perfectly blends my passion for communications and my passion for climate action, allowing me to creatively unite the two each day.

Climable: Who are the target audience(s) for IMT?

KW: IMT is focused on driving action in buildings and in this regard, we focus on engaging key decision makers. Often these people are in two realms: real estate decision makers such as building owners, managers, and tenants who are making the daily business decisions that can — or should — include energy as a factor, and public policymakers who can incentivize, support, and, in some cases, require action on improving building performance. In the public policy realm, the majority of our work is at the local level, most often with mayor's offices.

Climable: Is it important to talk about climate change? Why?

KW: Climate change affects every part of our daily lives and its impact will only grow. It's important to talk about it different frames, connecting the dots in ways that resonate with people on an individual level to help identify potential solutions that make this huge topic more approachable. Spouting data won't get the action we need at the scale and pace we need to see happen. We have to make it personal by talking about how it affects the many aspects of our lives.

Climable: What are some techniques you use to communicate on climate change topics?

KW: One of the things I work with people on is making climate change topics approachable and engaging. That often means thinking about what your audience is most interested in or most values and figuring out how what you're talking about fits into those frames. I also often look for ways to personalize data. Is there an anecdote or story that illustrates the concept and makes it easier to grasp?

Climable: Do you think there is value in maintaining positive messaging? Or, what are your views on taking a positive or negative approach when it comes to messaging? Where's the balance?

KW: I gravitate toward positive messaging that also contains a sense of urgency. Climate can be tricky in that too much negativity can easily turn people off: it's too big, I can't do anything to make a difference, and so I won't make any changes. It can also be easily written off as alarmist. I think positive framing that gives people hope is more effective but again, there also needs to be a sense of urgency added to ensure that something actually changes.

Climable: In this age of super limited attention spans, have you found one platform or medium to be better at catching people's attention?

KW: I debate this constantly! I myself tire out on many of the social platforms and often feel like there is just too much chatter going on. For IMT, we've had a lot of success with our blogs and newsletters, where we're focusing more and more on providing analysis that helps people cut through the chatter. For example, in covering recent, first-of-its-kind climate legislation in Washington, DC, and New York City— both of which are the first laws to mandate that building owners improve their building's performance— we focused on the top takeaways for our audience. This happened, here's what you most need to know about it, here's why it matters beyond DC or New York, and what you should be watching as a next development. We've had great, continued traction with those sorts of pieces.


We hope you've enjoyed this series on climate conversations. We will be taking all the lessons learned from our talks with the pros and try applying them in our personal lives- we hope you will too! Already do? Leave us a comment with your tips!

More about the Institute for Market Transformation: IMT catalyzes demand for energy-efficient, high-performing buildings that range from homes to offices, hospitals, schools, businesses and more. Buildings account for ~40% of total energy consumption in the U.S. so this work can have a meaningful impact!