Outdoor Recreation and Environmental Communication

On February 25, 2022, we hosted a conversation to explore how to leverage the American public’s growing enthusiasm for outdoor recreation in order to foster environmental stewardship and climate action. Yale Professor of Economics Kenneth Gillingham, a former wilderness ranger, moderated the discussion between Chris Perkins, Senior Director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, and José Gonzalez, Founding Director of Latinos Outdoors.

The event was sponsored by the Yale Center for Environmental Communication and the Outdoor Recreation Student Interest Group at the Yale School of the Environment.

Takeaways include:

  1. Outdoor Recreation Interest is Booming. Communities of all types around the US, in different places and across the political spectrum, are investing in outdoor recreation. Mr. Perkins offers a few ideas why: outdoor recreation provides economic resilience and diversification, Covid-19 has shifted consumer preference towards the outdoors, there has been a recognition that park and green spaces are a key part of racial equity, and lastly that the acute effects of climate change are promoting environmental awareness. 
  2. Communities of Color and the Outdoors. The question is how, not whether, communities of color care about the outdoors. Mr. Gonzalez shared how most environmental  organizations target intentional users of green spaces for engagement.  Instead, he suggested we should be looking to work with those who intentionally avoid the outdoors. The way outdoor recreation is framed can play a large role in broadening its appeal.
  3. How to Engage on a Personal Level. Mental models and maps are different for everyone, and so providing information is not enough. Asking questions and trying to understand the other’s position is necessary. Keep a learner’s mindset and have empathy when interacting. Further, with the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have faced emotional exhaustion and the outdoors has been recognized as a key place to rejuvenate.