Spotlight on Public Engagement

More and more cities are making public engagement a key tactic in delivering their climate change strategies. The recent C40 Cities Mayors Summit in Sao Paulo featured a session on this topic, with panelists from New York, Tokyo and Seattle. Here, Emma Berndt, director of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) Outdoor Lighting program, which was originally developed and executed by the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), shares her observations on the discussion that took place.

There are a number of important messages to communicate to the public on the issue of climate change, but, in the end, they must be actionable by an individual citizen -- or they risk overwhelming.  This central tension framed the discussion at the public engagement session of the C40 Cities Mayors Summit, which explored ideas around how city governments can effectively bring the public on board as a partner in addressing climate change.

The session was kicked off by Volker Buscher, Director of IT and Communication at Arup, who noted that the responses to a recent survey  highlighted that many cities are just beginning to make public engagement a part of their climate change strategies.

Next, Roya Kazemi, Director of GreeNYC, New York City’s program dedicated to educating and empowering residents to live more sustainable lifestyles, shared a useful framework for thinking about where and how to engage residents.  She discussed how GreeNYC develops and rolls-out campaigns; anyone who has heard Mayor Bloomberg  say “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” will not be surprised that the city’s approach starts with data. 

Looking at the numbers tells us that engaging New York City residents can have a big impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, as 39% of energy used in the city comes from households.  Polling results show that residents of New York City feel responsible for the environment, indicating a real opportunity to harness this sentiment through effective communication.  The folks at GreeNYC identified the areas where the city is not currently influencing behavior through policy or direct action.  They then mapped these policy gaps to the areas where the most impact could be had in reducing emissions.  And, presto!  A roadmap for action emerged.

GreeNYC focuses on one issue at a time and attempts to craft a specific message that gets to the heart of what motivates people, in many cases leveraging city assets like city fleet vehicles and digital message boards on highways to provide a unique platform for the delivery of the message.  To start, GreeNYC launched a campaign on the issue of car engine idling, focusing on its health implications  as a motivator for behavioral change .

In Tokyo, there is a strong interest in engaging students.  Kazuya Naito, Director of the city’s Bureau of Waterworks, discussed Tokyo’s successful grassroots outreach effort that targets education programs in the classroom.  Mr. Naito explained how the Waterworks caravan visits schools, hands out water-saving appliances, and teaches students through experiments, images and skits.   Surveys measure the effectiveness of the program, so far showing that it has helped participants become more mindful of conservation.

And, in Seattle, Mike O’Brian, a City Councilor, described how the City has created a program called the Carbon Coach, which trains passionate local advocates for environmental issues on the science behind climate change, and gives them the tools to become more effective communicators on this issue. 

Public engagement is clearly a space that’s ripe for creative ideas and strategies.  What is your city doing to engage its residents?

If you would like to share your story with us, we would love to hear from you.  Please send information to brussell (at) clintonfoundation (dot) org.