Tell us a little about your role at NatCap.
Talia Trepte: I am currently a communications assistant. I started at NatCap as a communications intern three years ago while I was in undergrad. Over the years, I’ve gradually increased my skillset to take on more responsibilities on the communications team. I make graphics and videos for our social media, newsletter, and website to promote NatCap events, research, and presentations. I support many of our social media campaigns, and I also participate in strategic communications decisions, from determining how to best communicate with certain audiences to analyzing which tools are going to best equip our team to succeed.
My work is about finding ways to concisely communicate — in a visually compelling way — all of the science, training, and capacity building going on at NatCap.
What made you interested in environmental communication as a subject area?
My goal is to do something that helps people — everything in the world is supported by natural systems, so that’s what I chose to study.
I’ve lived in Hawai’i and Arizona, two places where there is a lot of conversation around climate change, storms, nature, and sustainability. Honestly, climate denial was at the core of why I wanted to go into communications. My generalized science background, which stems from my interdisciplinary biosphere degree, puts me in a good position to focus on communication. I know the science behind these conversations, so now I want to uncover the secrets to talking about them in ways that general audiences will understand and care about.
The more I learn in my environmental communications master’s program, the more I realize the complexities of that goal. It’s not just that people do or don’t believe in climate change or do or don’t care about the environment. People live in communities with complex local politics and they have personal priorities like working and taking care of their families. It can be daunting to try to understand dense scientific research while also juggling all of the other aspects of life.
Lately, I’ve been really interested in how to talk about research in an accurate but accessible way. I’m realizing that context and accessibility are at the core of any communications issue.
I am also interested and motivated by environmental justice, in large part because the identities and communities that I come from are severely impacted. Black and Hawaiian-Pacific Islander communities are overburdened by environmental threats, from increasing storm intensities to sea-level rise to toxic zones and military testing sites.
How have you furthered your interest in environmental communications at NatCap?
While much of my work at NatCap doesn’t directly involve convincing people climate change is real or that environmental justice issues exist, I have been able to get a better view into how ecosystem sciences science is done and how it connects to those issues. I’ve learned how the academic-to-decision-making pipeline functions and how groups like NatCap are working with communities so that pipeline can be as effective as possible.
Because I am a Brown femme at a predominantly white insitution, sometimes I bring issues up that elicit the response, “We hadn’t thought about that, let’s talk about it more.” My communities also intersect with mental health and illness, leading me to talk about accessibility.
We’ve made it a priority on the NatCap comms team to be conscious of the words we use, to shift how we discuss certain regions or present-day events impacting communities, and to make sure our communications are accessible, like standardizing alternative text, or “alt text,” descriptions whenever we post on social media. If you put all of your information into a graphic, a lot of people aren’t going to be able to see what you’re trying to communicate. Alt text describes the image in a few sentences so that accessibility reader software can access the image.
These are just little ways to be more accessible and in tune with the communities we’re talking with or about, and they apply to every conversation. Especially in conservation and ecological work making nature’s benefits accessible to people. That’s been a really rewarding aspect of applying my communications studies.
How have your responsibilities progressed over your years at NatCap, from a communications intern to a communications assistant?
I started off mostly doing transcription work: I would take interviews like this one, listen to the audio, and type it all out. I also spent some time on some basic social media posts and videos.
After a year as an intern at NatCap, Sarah Cafasso (Communications Manager) and I talked about how I might grow my portfolio by pursuing projects I was interested in or building new skills. I started making short videos for social media that synthesize research papers, policy memos, and other science content into short, easily understandable formats. I’ve also planned several large scale social media campaigns — I write every tweet or LinkedIn post, design the graphics for the whole campaign and put together a schedule. I do some newsletter work as well.
I started working at NatCap the same time I was taking several environmental justice pedagogy classes and talking with practitioners about different community needs. Those studies and some hands-on learning informed my NatCap work. For example, I started thinking about the consistent use of proper alt text on our social media channels because I’m in accessibility circles. If we want to expand our community — who we work with, who we communicate with, who we reach, then we need to make our communications more accessible.
What have been your favorite projects you’ve worked on at NatCap?
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but this past year I’ve spent the most time on the Natural Capital Conversations series. I investigated different social media circles, researching hashtags, trends, and more. Then, I planned where, when, and what to post. The graphics for the conversations became fun because I found a routine. I’d create upwards of a dozen or more different graphics and versions of social media posts for each conversation. I wrote a newsletter recap story for the series.
I’ve also had fun creating some of our recent videos. I wanted to continue honing my multimedia skills, especially if I’m going to double down on communications as a next step in my career. So I pitched the idea of doing videos for the recent cities-related papers, like Urban InVEST and sea-level rise solutions. I suggested this both because it’s important work for marginalized communities in cities and because videos have been proven to be effective tools for getting the word out on social media. I also thought using a professional editing software could communicate what we want in a more professional way and reach more people, so I started teaching myself how to use AdobePremiere to make videos for our papers!
What is your favorite thing about working at NatCap?
I have to say it’s the people. At the end of the day, why I stayed and why I think the team wanted me to stay as long as I did was that we are kind, understanding, and had fun. It is just a respectful, collaborative environment. People are very encouraging of each other, and I feel like we got to run the gamut of discussing very serious topics and then just joking about our pets at any given meeting. Just lovely people managing to be positive despite all sorts of injustices and other difficulties in our work.
You’re sadly leaving NatCap next year. What are you doing next?
I’m graduating soon, so I am looking for fellowships. I’m focusing mostly on climate communications, but I’m also keeping an eye out for more hands-on, on-the-ground work with environmental justice organizations. At Stanford I focused a lot on coastal management research and now I’m also interested in conservation and agriculture justice work. Maybe one day I’ll go back into research or teaching, but right now I’m interested in exploring the application side of things.
Anything else you want to share?
Funnily enough, I’ve been working at NatCap for so long but I’ve never had GIS experience. Working at NatCap encouraged me to finally take the plunge and take a GIS class. It’s funny how much graphic design and communications ties into making maps, because at its core, it’s an extremely visual, multimedia type of analysis. Now that I’ve started with GIS, I hope I can use these tools to expand how we understand environment and justice concepts!
Amelia O’Donohue is a Communications Intern at NatCap who has loved working with Talia over the last several years. She is a Stanford student and is getting her master’s in Management Science and Engineering and her bachelor’s in Earth Systems.