Making the Case for Environmental Health

Client: Natural Resources Defense Council and partners


A group of environmental health funders and advocates noted with concern that rates of disease related to toxic exposures were increasing, but that policy and investments required to improve environmental health were not.  Policy makers, funders and other opinion leaders were focusing on health and on the environment. But they were not paying attention to reducing the toxins known to increase risk for poor health and environmental degradation.  As a result, this group commissioned research to better understand the perceptions and interests that business and philanthropic leaders to create and test message to better communicate the risks and potential solutions that spanned their work in the environmental, health, and social justice fields. Dovetailing Consulting was engaged to carry out this brief research project, from February 2012 through June 2012. 

The project included:

  • Review of communication and opinion research about how the public and policy makers think about environmental health
  • Interviews with business, philanthropic and community leaders in the fields of health, the environment and social justice to better understand their perceptions and to identify ways to create a more compelling dialogue to raise awareness and build support for environmental health issues
  • Creation of a message ladder, recommendations and collateral material


A major challenge in advocating for a preventive focus is the long period between exposure to environmental factors and any resulting negative effect.  Moreover, and environmental health approach can influence many large social and ecological systems such as the environment, individual human health, and economic opportunity. Anyone approached might have reason to be interested in one or more of these areas making development of a single set of messages difficult.


Dovetailing began by gathering and analyzing opinion research, summarizing findings about message resonance and creating a draft theory of action noting the connections between environmental health and the desired outcomes of those in the health, environmental, economic development and social justice fields. We then worked with project partners to identify and prioritize leaders in these fields for key informant interviews to explore values and interests, test resonance of different messages. The aim was to create tailored messages and materials that could make the case for improved policy and investment.


This research resulted recommendations for crafting messages for funders and advocates of these related fields. The recommendations include a Theory of Action displaying how environmental health positively impacts these other fields. Value frames were used to describe the interests, resonant messages and counteracting arguments, effective messengers and other support for tailoring messages to audiences. The findings were integrated into message ladders for constructing arguments and case materials as well as draft presentation materials that can be customized for different audiences by national advocacy and funding organizations.

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