Environmental communication refers to the study and practice of how individuals, institutions, societies, and cultures craft, distribute, receive, understand, and use messages about the environment and human interactions with the environment. This includes a wide range of possible interactions, from interpersonal communication to virtual communities, participatory decision making, and environmental media coverage. And it also includes verbal communication.
From the perspective of practice, Alexander Flor defines environmental communication as the application of communication approaches, principles, strategies and techniques to environmental management and protection.
As an academic field, environmental communication emerged from interdisciplinary work involving communication, environmental studies, environmental science, risk analysis and management, sociology, and political ecology.
Flor (2004) considers it as a significant element in the environmental sciences, which he believes to be a transdicipline. He begins his textbook on environmental communication with a declarative statement, "Environmentalism as we know it today began with environmental communication. The environmental movement was ignited by a spark from a writer’s pen, or more specifically and accurately, Rachel Carson’s typewriter." According to Flor, environmental communication has six essentials: knowledge of ecological laws; sensitivity to the cultural dimension; ability to network effectively; efficiency in using media for social agenda setting; appreciation and practice of environmental ethics; and conflict resolution, mediation and arbitration (Ibid). In an earlier book, Flor and Gomez (1993) explore the development of an environmental communication curriculum from the perspectives of practitioners from the government, the private sector and the academe.
Climate change communications has historically focused on news coverage and disseminating information. Academic fields such as psychology, environmental sociology, and risk communication have argued that public nonresponse to climate change is due to a lack of information. In her book Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life, Norgaard's (2011) study of Bygdaby (a fictional name used for a real city in Norway) found that non-response was much more complex than just a lack of information. In fact, too much information can do the exact opposite because people tend to neglect global warming once they realize there is no easy solution. When people understand the complexity of the issue, they can feel overwhelmed and helpless which can lead to apathy or skepticism. Environmental skepticism is an increasing challenge for environmental rhetoric.
Environmental communication is also a type of symbolic action that serves two functions. Those functions are pragmatic and constitutive. Environmental human communication is pragmatic because it helps individuals and organizations to accomplish goals and literally do things through communication. Examples of this include educating, alerting, persuading and collaborating. Environmental human communication is constitutive because it helps to shape people's understandings of environmental issues, themselves, and Nature; it shapes the meanings we hold of these things. Examples of this include values, attitudes, and ideologies vis-à-vis Nature and environmental issues and problems.Environmental nature communication happens when plants actually communicate,within ecosystems:"A plant injured on one leaf by a nibbling insect can alert its other leaves to begin anticipatory defense responses." "When a leaf gets eaten, it warns other leaves by using some of the same signals as animals. Plant biologists are "starting to unravel a long-standing mystery about how different parts of a plant communicate with one another."
Communication Theory has one universal law, written by S. F. Scudder in the early 1900s, and later published in 1980. The Universal Communication Law states that, "All living entities, beings and creatures communicate." In an unpublished interview, Scudder clarified the concept - "All of the living communicate through movements, sounds, reactions, physical changes, gestures, languages, breath, color transformations, etc. Communication is a means of survival, existence and being and does not need another to acknowledge the communication exists. Examples - the cry of a child (communication that it is hungry, hurt, cold, etc.); the browning of a leaf,a leaf that becomes defensive as it's being consumed,"A plant injured on one leaf by a nibbling insect can alert its other leaves to begin anticipatory defense responses. Working in the model plant Arabidopsis, Toyota et al. show that this systemic signal begins with the release of glutamate, which is perceived by glutamate receptor–like ion channels (see the Perspective by Muday and Brown-Harding). The ion channels then set off a cascade of changes in calcium ion concentration that propagate through the phloem vasculature and through intercellular channels called plasmodesmata. This glutamate-based long-distance signaling is rapid: Within minutes, an undamaged leaf can respond to the fate of a distant leaf."  and  A leaf that communicates that it is being eaten); the cry of an animal (communicating that it is injured, hungry, angry, etc.)are examples that sit inside the universal law that Everything living communicates."]
Scudder's thesis is aptly reinforced by General Systems Theory, which submits that one of the three critical functions of living systems is the exchange of information with its environment and with other living systems (the other two being the exchange of materials and the exchange of energy). In his book, Flor (2004, page 4) extends this argument by forwarding that, "All living systems, from the simplest to the most complex, are equipped to perform these critical functions. They are called critical because they are necessary for the survival of the living system. Communication is nothing more than the exchange of information. Hence, at its broadest sense, environmental communication is necessary for the survival of every living system, be it an organism, an ecosystem, or (even) a social system."
Areas of study and practice
According to J. Robert Cox, the field of environmental communication is composed of seven major areas of study and practice:
- Environmental rhetoric and discourse
- Media and environmental journalism
- Public participation in environmental decision making
- Social marketing and advocacy campaigns
- Environmental collaboration and conflict resolution
- Risk communication
- Representations of Nature in popular culture and green marketing
Related, peer-reviewed journals in this field include:
- Corbett, Julia B. (2006). Communicating Nature: How We Create and Understand Environmental Messages. Washington, D.C.: Island Press
- Cox, J. Robert. (2010). Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
- Flor, Alexander G. (2004). Environmental Communication: Principles, Approaches and Strategies of Communication Applied to Environmental Management. Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippines-Open University
- Mathur, Piyush (2017). Technological Forms and Ecological Communication: A Theoretical Heuristic. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.
- Communication studies
- Environmental journalism
- Media coverage of climate change
- List of environmental issues
- List of environmental studies topics
- Lists of environmental publications
- "Environmental Communication".
- Flor, Alexander. (2004). Environmental Communication. Diliman, Quezon City: University of the Philippines-Open University.
- Flor, Alexander, and Gomez, Ely D., eds. (1993). Environmental Communication: Considerations in Curriculum and Delivery Systems Development. Los Banos, Laguna: University of the Philippines Los Banos - Institute of Development Communication.
- Nisbet, M. C. (2009). "Communicating climate change: Why frames matter for public engagement". Environment. 51 (2): 14–23.
- Norgaard, K. M. (2011). Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262015448.
- Jacques, P. (2013). Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life. Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0754671022.
- Cox, J. Robert. (2010). Environmental Communication And The Public Sphere. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, pp.??[page needed]
- International Environmental Communication Association (IECA) - a professional association for environmental communication practitioners, teachers, and scholars
- Talk.Eco: Resources for Environmental Communicators - a site featuring curated resources for environmental communication professionals
- Environmental Communication: What it is and Why it Matters by Mark Meisner
- Bibliography of books in environmental communication by Mark Meisner
- ECOresearch Network - Research Network on Environmental Online Communication
- Indications: Environmental Communication blog (inactive), 2010-2012
-  - The International Communication Association Environmental Communication Division
- Communication et environnement, le pacte impossible by Thierry Libaert