The Greenery: Decoding Environmental Policy

Project Title: The Greenery: Decoding Environmental Policy

Knight Group 1: Mollie Mahoney, Nathaniel Clark, Sanjana Murali

Requested Amount: $30,000

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 6 months

Project Description:

When it comes to the news in the environment, it takes some decoding to understand what is truly going on. How much damage does fracking really do? What about the impacts of the Keystone Pipeline? Often times, news consumers, especially young people, are offered irregular and unclear interpretations of political developments in the environment.

Our idea is to provide an email newsletter to our subscribers once every two weeks. In our newsletter, we would focus solely on environmental policy within government. Our newsletter would contain headlines of emerging news with a synopsis of the key takeaway points, providing links to more articles if our subscribers want to learn more about the issue. We hope to routinely feature experts on issues through interviews or articles in order for our readers to get information straight from the source of development.The main idea is to inform interested young people about evolving governmental environmental policy in order for them to form reasoned opinions.

We feel that there is currently a dearth of information regarding developments within governing bodies with respect to environmental issues — they too often take a backseat to other issues. News on developments can be hard to find when they do get covered. This is the issue that our product aims to change. It will become a one stop shop for new developments in environmental issues being discussed in the government. This will make it easier for our subscribers to get information instead of having to search around since it is not covered as much as other issues.

We chose to deliver our information through an email newsletter because one of the goals of our project is to ensure that young people can receive information in a convenient and non-intrusive way. Often times, college students find their news from reading articles that their peers have linked on Facebook or Twitter – this provides students with news their peers find worthy rather than an unbiased representation of current events. In the case of environment policy issues, they may not find news at all given that this topic only reaches the public when high profile incidents — such as the 2010 BP oil spill — make headlines.

Email is another effective way to communicate with students as school requires them to check their emails almost perpetually. Email — like Facebook and Twitter — is available on mobile devices, which is critical if you are trying to reach college students who are constantly out and about. As such, we feel our email is capable of reaching a mass of interested students. We would likely also create pages on social media in order to reach out to a wider audience. We would use social media as a method of promotion of our email newsletter.

Our goals with the newsletter are first and foremost to inform our audience about how environmental policy issues are playing out. We hope that our approach to make news consumption as convenient as possible will make readers just a little bit more excited to check their email.

What unmet need is your project fulfilling?

Some websites may provide a brief synopsis on a variety of news topics, and some may provide an in-depth analysis on environmental policy. But no other group gives quick summaries just on environmental policy. And news on environmental policy can be difficult to find; most news websites have a section just for policy, and environmental news may be lumped in the science section. Our goal is to merge the two in one newsletter so our subscribers can get all of the new information in one location, focusing on accuracy and brevity.

Our newsletter is geared towards college students, and as college students ourselves, we know that brevity is key for our audience. College students tend to have a hectic schedules and may not always have the time to be well informed on every environmental issue. Our newsletter is aimed at accurately informing others about breaking news on the environment while being as brief as possible. Traditional college students have recently reached voting age and can play a huge role in how environmental policy is played out if they are knowledgeable and care enough. We will try and inform prospective voters about key issues and policies in the environment so they are able to vote for what and who they believe in.

Interviews:

  1. I interviewed Jacob Ketterer, a recent transfer student into the College of Engineering studying computer engineering. He is from Macomb Township, MI and attended Oakland University for two years. He generally felt as though he wasn’t very informed about current events due to little time and resources to invest in reading or watching the news. He also felt that it would be most convenient to read about the news online, so that he could access the information at his convenience. When asked about how he would consume the news, he remarked that he would prefer to read articles on his computer screen rather than his phone given the much larger screen size. He was interested in being more informed about news in the scientific community as a whole rather than news related solely related to the environment. Although, he did feel that being informed about the environment would contribute to a full understanding of current events. For Jacob, it appeared that his limitation to being aware of the news were a lack of a defined way to learn about the news as well as a lack of time. Contact information: (586)-668-4093
  2. I interviewed Sam Waldron, a 20-year-old junior who is a history major at the University of Michigan. He is from a small town called Schoolcraft, MI (near Kalamazoo) and has experience with farming. As such, environmental issues take on somewhat of a personal meaning for him. He said that feels he is fairly well informed regarding environmental issues, but would certainly love to learn more. He said the newsletter would help as he agreed that there isn’t a ton of news coming out of governing bodies regarding the environment except in cases like the Keystone Pipeline, the BP Oil Spill or various fracking incidents. He particularly expressed concern with global warming and would love to be more informed with what our governments (as well as those of other large countries) are doing and/or planning to do about it. Contact information: (269)-270-6074
  3. I interviewed 19 year old Rachel Donabedian,  a second year nursing student at the University of Michigan. She is originally from Livonia, Michigan and although her major does not directly relate to the environment, she still has a passion for environmental issues. Rachel felt that an email newsletter would be the best way for her to receive new information, she thought an app on her cellphone might end up being wasted storage space. She did not think that she would use an app very often and might even forget that it was there, compared to a newsletter coming to her at a specific time where she could scroll through and see what she found interesting. Also, Rachel thought a newsletter would simplify and ease getting information. Rachel for the most part felt that she was well-informed on general environmental news, but thought sometimes she was unaware of what is going on in environmental policy. Although she felt well-informed on environmental news, she would not be opposed to getting more information. Contact information: (313)-505-5261
  4. I interviewed Alex Frontera, a 20 year old student in the College of Education who’s majoring in Language Arts. She is from Shelby Township, MI. She did not feel as though she was highly informed about the news and stated that she typically got her news information from browsing videos and articles her peers shared online. She remarked that if she really wanted to find something out, she would probably just Google it. She was very interested in a news consumption source that would get right to the point and inform her about what she needed to know – a short article, or even a video. Over the summer, she encountered fracking for the first time as companies were digging rigs on a plot very close to her home to begin fracking. She did not get highly involved, but she believed that being informed on such issues would allow her to take a stance when real life problems, such as this, occurred. Additionally, she thought that being informed on policy issues would be useful in her future career of educating students. She hoped to be able to present current events to her future students so that they could develop their own views, and this would involve her becoming an avid news consumer. Contact Information: (586)-306-3014

How big is the potential market?

The potential market for our newsletter is huge. We would target college students such as ourselves and our peers, but we are not restricting ourselves to a certain age demographic. It is ideally for people who may be pressed on time but still want to be informed about environmental policy. A Gallup poll conducted in 2014 on people’s support on fracking showed that overall 19% had no opinion, and 24% between the ages of 18-24 had no opinion. Our newsletter would try and reduce that number, so more people would be well-informed and able to form their own opinion on environmental issues.

How is your idea innovative?

Our idea is innovative in its convenience as well as its subject matter. We are blending news on environment policy with the ease of access of an email newsletter – a novel solution to lack of familiarity with environment issues as they are being discussed in the government. Several notable news sources like the New York Times today lack a section devoted to solely environment policy, rather they discuss scientific news in general. The Economist is an exception with a section called Environmental Policy, however their email newsletter, the Economist Espresso, focuses on business, finance, and politics and does not include their environment section. Our newsletter would provide readers with information on research developments about the environment as well as their political implications, unlike the NYT and Economist. Another competitor would be the Skimm, a daily email newsletter discussing both global and national news. The Skimm discusses major environmental policy news when it is a hot topic, however it does not cover smaller issues in the field. The Skimm has become popular as it provides a brief, understandable summary of relevant news topics in a visually pleasing way. Our email newsletter would attempt to provide the same brevity and wit within our reporting while also giving a comprehensive review of environment policy.

How will your project be financially stable?


Our project’s main costs will be incurred by paying a small team of graphic designers and writers on a part time basis. We will also have small costs associated with promotion.

When it comes to revenue for websites, advertising is the way to go. For example, Facebook made over three billion dollars in advertising money just in the second quarter of 2015 according to Fortune Magazine. 76% of those earnings came from mobile ads alone.

While our newsletter’s revenue would obviously be several orders of magnitude lower than Facebook’s, we would follow a similar model. We would mostly lean on advertising things that have relevance to environmental issues as not to detract from the overall experience. MonetizePro, a website that conducts research on web traffic for advertisements, estimates that email advertisements can be sold for $5.00 per 1,000 impressions. This number is certainly low, and it will require lots of promotion for our newsletter to reach a number of subscribers to make advertisement our only source of revenue. We would likely also have to benefit from some donations, large and small.These would be from people who care about the environment and/or want to support our newsletter.

Why are you and your team the right people to develop this project?

Our team is the right group of people to develop this project because of our close familiarity with the problem. We ARE the targeted group with whom we will eventually promote our product to, and because of this, we understand how our product can be developed to suit the needs of our users. We understand how to make our newsletter intuitive, eye-catching, yet informative. Additionally, we are three individuals diverse in our educational background – climate and space science, molecular biology, and chemistry. This ensures that our email newsletter will be equally accessible to a layperson as well as someone versed in environment policy.

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7 Responses to “The Greenery: Decoding Environmental Policy”

  1. This is an awesome idea! I definitely agree that there is a need for easy access to information about environmental issues and policies. It can be difficult to find unbiased, scientific information about environmental policy because of the controversial nature of the topic due to politics. Because documents that detail policies about the environment can also be so long and full of complicated wording, it is necessary for summaries to be written so that the average person can become informed on these issues.

    One question that I have is how you will get people to subscribe to your newsletter. Will you be advertising for it on certain websites or social media platforms? I think that a lot of people would sign up for it if they knew about it, but the problem would be getting information and advertising for your newsletter out to a large audience on the internet.

  2. Nice idea! It’s interesting, my group identified the same need during our brainstorming period. Our solution was to design a widget that worked on geo-locational data to provide quick summaries of local and effecting-national environmental policy.

    There were a few rhetorical choices that you made in your application that I didn’t quite understand. One for instance was the use of the Gallop poll stat in you answer to the potential market question. Your potential market will not be the people who have no opinion on fracking, because most of them don’t take the time to research it, and therefore would not take the time to subscribe to a newsletter that addressed those types of issues (thus, why they don’t have an opinion). Therefore, stating that 24% of 18-24 year-olds do not have an opinion about fracking lessens your potential market. I understand that as a part of the mission of your newsletter you are trying to inform the uninformed, but as your primary source of income will eventually advertising you should consider that the majority of your market will be in the already informed looking to reinforce their beliefs. Consequently early marketing should be focused on the informed, and once you are sustainable, you can begin to attempt to fulfill the mission of informing the uninformed.

    Also, I’m not quite sure how your idea is innovative. I know that there are already many email newsletters (that I’m subscribed to) that break down environmental policy. The Center for Food Safety sends me one every week. I think it would be beneficial to give more thought to how your newsletter will be different from the others out there.

    Overall you have some good ideas starting to emerge with the great goal of keeping the public informed.

  3. This is a newsletter I would be potentially interested in. I can be difficult to find balanced and non biased information about environmental topics because so many are influenced by politics. However, I am not sure if many other college students would be interested in the newsletter. This could be problematic because your idea relies on advertisement revenue for funding. How do you plan on promoting the newsletter so you get enough readers? Most college students may be too busy to add extra reading to their schedule, and may prefer filling free time with other activities. It could be problematic to depend on college students that would read about the environment for financial support. Most students that keep up with environmental topics are probably already doing so with a different source.

  4. I would love to subscribe to this newsletter! Environmental issues can be very hard to understand, and a quick summary of what’s happening would be really useful.

    One thing I think you should check out is theSkimm. (http://www.theskimm.com/) If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a news source that sends out an email every weekday morning with a very brief description of the biggest news stories. The way it says the news is what makes it stand out to me; it’s extremely well-written and it says the news in a witty/almost sarcastic voice. If you’re trying to appeal to college students, something similar to that might be a good idea. Obviously you don’t want to copy their system, but I know theSkimm has been very successful with college students and it would be interesting to analyze exactly what made it so appealing to that age group. Another source I know has been successful is The Morning Brew, which is like theSkimm but is just about business news. That might be interesting to look at as well.

    I was a little curious about who you would hire to work on this newsletter. You said that you would only hire some people part time. Would all the stories be freelance writers who you pay per article, and then a small team of permanent employees who organize each newsletter? I think that’s something that might be important to clarify as you move on, since that’s a huge part of the funding you need.

    Overall, great idea!

  5. I definitely love your idea! Personally, I’ve come across the need for a product like yours. Being student who is really interested in current events, especially when it comes to legislation and policy making, having a source that would provide a summary for policies and easily break down important information in these policies that are being released.

    My biggest concern though, is how you would be providing these summaries and what their turnaround time would be. Since there isn’t software or an algorithm that could run through each policy or document to successfully summarize it, you’re going to have to hire people to do it. Which means you’re going to need to hire people to read through every environmental policy that comes out and write a helpful summary for it. This seems like it would be costly, but also that it would take a lot of time, like you wouldn’t be able to turn these out right after the policy came out. I’m not sure how much of a concern the turnaround time is though, since I’m not sure that you necessarily want immediacy to be a key feature of your project.

    Other than that, I think it’s a really good and useful idea that I would definitely take advantage of!

  6. This idea sounds very interesting! I love the idea of sending the most important news in a specific category to people’s inboxes. I really enjoy my New York Times daily briefings that summarize the day’s news, but I often want more detail. The idea of providing detailed news in a section that reader’s care about is great. However, how would you differentiate your news from other environment-specific news sources (environmental science journals, national geographic, LiveScience, etc.) that may even have their own email updates? I that even more than the need for environment-specific news is the need for unbiased or balanced environmental news. Oftentimes outlets that report on environmental news have a definite perspective, and show one side of the problem. I think your product could be unique if you were very careful and had a way to ensure unbiased environmental news. In general, unbiased news is unique. If you developed a reputation for unbiased reporting on environmental policy, I think you would gain a wider audience. I personally would like to read news from a source like this. As others have said, I think it will be difficult to gain revenue and costs will be high. You might have to be creative and think of an (unrelated?) way to raise revenue for the newsletter. Other than these concerns, which are fixable, it sounds like a great idea!

  7. Hi, Mollie, Nathaniel and Sanjana. Nice idea! With the strong policy focus you describe, I can see this product being used in civics classrooms. Do you envision any interactive features? Are you going to connect users in ways that help them voice opinions about policy issues?
    You’re lucky to have a lot of very helpful feedback from our classmates. I agree with the people who suggested that it would be good for you to pay a bit more attention to differentiating your product from other email newsletters or feeds or podcasts related to the environment. For example, check out the environmental policy feed from the Environmental News Network: http://www.enn.com/topics/environmental_policy
    There are other near competitors. That’s not bad. That means there is a market for the kind of product you envision. You just have to explain why and how yours will be better than what already exists.
    Actually, there are several successful companies focused on producing pricey digital newsletters for business people. BNA is one such company, based in Washington, D.C. It produces a suite of digital newsletters about a variety of regulatory/policy topics. Here’s a list of their newsletters that have something to do with the environment: http://www.bna.com/products/#!query=environment&page=1
    So, think about how you will do things differently than BNA and how you will make enough money to sustain your product financially.
    I agree with the recommendation that you think about marketing and how you will attract audience. It might be a good idea to be ready to answer questions about that from the judges.
    Again, good job on this! I love your passion for policy!

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