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Water Talk

by Ann Tartre

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Quick quiz: What do a giant wireless technology company based in San Diego and a national parks concessionaire based in Denver have in common?
Answer: Caring and talking about water, and in particular, the Colorado River.

Last week, at the Business of Water summit hosted in Phoenix by corporate water networks Protect the Flows (PTF) and Change the Course, thinkParallax staff Tyler Wagner and I collaborated with PTF staff to bring a session about effective communication and water story-telling to professionals in the private sector.

With Tyler as the moderator of the plenary session “Using Your Brand to Move the Water Needle”, panelists, Molly Gavin, Vice President of Sustainability and Government Affairs at Qualcomm and Catherine Greener, Vice President, Sustainability, Xanterra Parks & Resorts provided some lessons learned from their different approaches to communicating about their companies’ water stewardship initiatives.

Qualcomm’s #WhyWaitToSaveWater campaign focused on challenging their employees to use less water in their daily lives and raising awareness about “invisible” water. Xanterra has been a leader in communicating with vacationers in the iconic parks such as Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National and Rocky Mountains National Park where the company operates about water in the West and why conservation matters.

Here are a few of the tips they shared:

  • Use a balance of substantial data and emotional appeal in your sustainability communications
  • Engage employees in action and provide specific, concrete actions they can take to reduce or “soften” their own personal water footprints. You’ll be surprised
  • Inspire customers and others with humor, not guilt!
  • Create visual stories to bring people along with you on your company’s water stewardship story
  • Set and share stretch goals with your audiences–in the words of Catherine: “Humans are motivated by challenges, mediocrity does not motivate”. Talk about “radical” leak detection!
  • Use cool equivalencies so people can get an image of the change they are helping to create. For example, Qualcomm calculated that the collective water savings from its 30 day employee water saving pledge program was 18 million gallons, or 27 Olympic size swimming pools. Xanterra compiled all its water savings and realized that they equaled about 1 gallon for every man, woman and child in the US.

Tyler wrapped it all up with 5 Steps for Busy Communicators for effective sustainability water communications, including:

  1. Identify key stakeholders
  2. Identify your target audience
  3. Align target audiences with key messages
  4. Identify appropriate channels/tactics
  5. Get your message out there

Our hats are off to Qualcomm and Xanterra for their leadership on this critical issue during an on-going drought in the West. We hope you’ll find inspiration in their stories to “talk water” effectively.

Biz Of Water Summit
Ann Tartre is Senior Sustainability Consultant for thinkParallax and also the Director of Corporate Partnerships for Protect the Flows.

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