How to promote energy conservation in the nation's heartland – where people are openly skeptical about climate change?  Recast the issue in terms that resonate with your target audience — including thrift, care of creation and promoting new jobs.

The Climate and Energy Project challenged six Kansas towns to reduce energy use in a year-long competition.  Some towns achieved as much as a 5% energy reduction, a huge effect in energy conservation where a 1.5 % reduction in energy use is considered a success.

On Halloween 2009, children searched for "vampire" electric loads from appliances that draw energy when they appear to be off. A Lutheran church in Lindsborg was inspired to install geothermal heating. And Hutchinson won a contract for a $50 million wind turbine factory.

The competition grew out of a dinner table conversation between Wes Jackson, president of the Land Institute, which promotes sustainable agriculture, and his daughter-in-law, according to a New York Times story.  Jackson complained that while farmers would suffer from climate change, few would take steps to avoid it.  "Don't mention global warning or Al Gore," said Nancy Jackson.

She left her job at the University of Kansas to start the Climate and Energy Project with a grant from the Land Institute. She commissioned focus groups of independents and Republicans around Wichita and Kansas City. While they were skeptical of climate change, many were concerned about US dependence on foreign oil and others spoke of changes in nature — such as birds returning earlier in the spring.

Invoking thrift as a value, she recruited leaders in 6 towns to compete to reduce energy. Civic leaders were encouraged to embrace "green jobs" to rescue their communities. She spoke to local ministers and gave them talking points about how Christians are called to be good stewards of creation.

The towns were featured in a case study on changing behavior by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The Climate and Energy Project has received a grant from the Kansas Energy Office to coordinate a competition among 16 Kansas cities to cut energy use in 2011.

Several communications lessons can be drawn from the project's success at motivating behavior change by avoiding divisive buzz words:

* Research community attitudes about an issue to identify barriers

* Identify values that will motivate others to the desired behavior change

* Reframe  the issue to reduce resistance to change

* Create an event or competition to motivate people to get involved

*  Recruit leaders as ambassadors to help lead the change

* Provide tools, such as talking points, to help recruits carry your message.

A public relations strategist, like Gonder PR, can help you create the messages that can reach your target audiences. Look at our case studies to see how we have built support for a variety of clients.

To read a case study on the energy conservation campaign, click here.