What connects international agreements, spray-on deodorants, minute organisms floating near the ocean surface and incoming solar radiation? The answer, if you’re still guessing, is the ozone layer. And ozone protection – one of the great environmental successes of the last 30 years – is a story that isn’t over yet.
It has things to tell us about tackling global change, about how science makes unexpected new linkages, and how communications have to be fashioned to explain them. For us, the lesson is that people are all potentially agents of change, if the information is conveyed in the right way, and we understand what we are looking at.
2015 was an important year for Ozone protection. The 30 anniversary of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer brought evidence that the hole in the ozone layer was beginning to heal. This was coupled with COP21 in Paris and the need to galvanise action around climate change, in part based on the global success of ozone protection.
We were commissioned by the UNEP Ozone Secretariat to design the visuals for a public campaign that wove together a complex set of messages tailored to this context. We were also asked to support delivery through a range of communications materials and plans for the public and policy makers. It was a communications opportunity to seed several new phases of work through the celebration of decades of effort and a recognition of challenges ahead. That called for integrating images in a communications strategy, for maximum impact.
The visuals we produced told a scientific story of what has happened, and depicted the impact of humans (positive and negative) in this relatively recent history of the ozone layer. The creative team needed to delve into the complexity of ozone science and find ways of sharing key details. Their materials built up an all-purpose library, from cartoon animation, visualisation showing scale, country by country interactives and explanatory video to show the link between the ozone layer and climate change.
The communications plan needed to deploy all these, along with posters and social media posts, to deliver the visualisations effectively. We wanted to catch potential viewers for visuals designed to empower them to understand and choose how to act: to form a new generation of lay-scientists, ozone protectors and emissions reduction participants. There was a celebratory mood – marked by dancing phytoplankton – but a message about work still to do, too.
Within the campaign policy makers needed to get information about some of the most constructive scientific findings of the century (so far), about Ozone protection. This includes the link between industry and public support for emissions reduction. Added to this is the unfortunate kicker: HFCs (a replacement for CFCs that damage the ozone layer) are also greenhouse gases.
So policy makers didn’t just get another report from UNEP. This one came with one of the animations (see above) we produced that distilled the science behind this challenge. It’s a strategy that should be widely applied. Don’t deliver an unadorned report: deliver the science as well - tell the story and help even those with experience of the science to understand the next step and make decisions.
Often the issue at hand is not black and white. There might be complex science to share, policies to explore and practical changes to make. Well-crafted visualisation helps achieve all three. When people understand what they see, they feel the force of the punch line, and they act. So in ozone protection we can celebrate a massive achievement to heal the hole, but must recognise that in doing so we have added to the problem of climate change. We can change that for the better too now we understand the problem.
For more about the UNEP Ozone Secretariat.