With Climate Action, Shout Success From the (Solar) Rooftop!

Thirty miles east of Downtown Los Angeles is the city where I was raised and currently live, La Verne. A small community hugging the foothills, it has a long history in Southern California for its orchards of orange trees. Where the city once relied on the sun for its agricultural economy, it is now harnessing the plentiful resource with a host of new solar developments.

Most recently, the School District, Bonita Unified, which covers both La Verne and the neighboring San Dimas, moved forward on a project to install solar facilities at 12 schools throughout the district. With construction already underway, the project is slated to be complete at most schools prior to the beginning of the school year.

The aim of the program is simple: to provide a renewable source of energy that will decrease electricity costs and increase energy efficiency.  Funded through a local measure passed by voters in 2008, in addition to numerous alternative sources, the project represents how communities can shape local policy and successfully implement climate solutions.

What they got right

Large-scale solar projects represent the best of how communities can work to bring climate solutions to their city. Local funding, approved through a countywide vote by residents in a local election, was able to transform uncovered school parking lots into hubs for renewable energy generation. These types of bold climate initiatives are exactly what allow cities to be cutting edge leaders when it comes to climate solutions.

What’s missing?

The developments in La Verne and countless cities like it often fall short when it comes to simple communications. For many in La Verne, the first time that they became aware of the program was when visible signs of construction began popping up around each of the schools. And still, the nature, reason, and benefits of the project were left unclear for most. No fliers were sent out to residents explaining the project and there was no information clearly identifying the solar initiative on the city website.

I am a lifelong resident in the city. I write professionally on environmental matters in addition to being an adjunct professor teaching government, environmental politics, and even a course on cities. I am fairly plugged in to events going on in the community, yet the project was a complete surprise to me. When mayors and city leaders act, especially at the behest of residents and voters, it is incumbent upon them to relay their progress to the community. This can be done in a number of simple ways:

  • Signage can be a simple, low-cost solution to promoting climate action. Throughout drought stricken Southern California, countless cities have adopted a policy of reducing or entirely turning off irrigation for city parks, medians, and city landscaping—these actions should be communicated to the public. In Beverly Hills, for example, city property was lined with signs reading: “please pardon our lawns”- and educated residents about the city’s efforts to conserve water. Signage can be used to explain what the city is doing and why, to ask residents and businesses to take part, and to announce progress.
  • Flyers and mailers can be used to target neighborhoods and communities that may be uniquely affected by a specific piece of climate action. In La Verne, those living near schools were sent mailers informing them about the solar project and what they might expect as construction progressed.
  • Local newspapers and press releases can be used to reach the broader public. Contacting reporters and promoting city actions this way allows mayors and community leaders to share and take pride in their climate accomplishments. Public recognition also lets the community feel pride and ownership, especially if it’s an initiative that they voted for, helped fund and participated in.
  • City websites and social media accounts like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are free and effective tools for communication. Simply keeping these platforms up to date can help spread the word about climate action, update residents on city works, gain valuable feedback on existing projects, and even solicit ideas for future ones.

Mayors and community leaders need to act, but they also need to ensure that they communicating the “what” and the “why” of their climate action plans. If city lawns are dead—be sure residents know that it is by design, that it is saving water and their tax dollars. When bold new solar projects are installed—residents should know that the panels will shade parked cars, generate power, and reduce the tax and power burden for the local school district, allowing more money to be spend on their children rather than electricity.

There are multiple avenues for getting the word out, but equally important is how leaders craft their message. Fortunately, there is a simple, 15-step process that has been well researched and tested that can be followed to craft effective climate message. Check them out at ecoAmerica, and be sure to join with other climate leaders at Path to Positive Communities today!

Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University, where he focused on climate change, political communications and psychology. Email him at stuart@ecoamerica.org.

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