By Published: April 18, 2023

Climate-communication class assignment was to ‘visually communicate sustainable fashion,’ and the effort got more response than anticipated

Local buses have been sporting images of students modeling clothing fashioned from recycled material, thrifted material and even plastic bags, along with the message: “Keep the Earth Clean: Dress Green.”

This is the visible result of a course taught by Beth Osnes and Max Boykoff, professors of environmental studies at CU Boulder, who created a “Green Suits your Fashion” program in their Spring 2021 Creative Climate Communications class. Students’ assignment: to visually communicate sustainable fashion to their circles of influence.

After contacting CU’s Mission Zero, which aims to help the “next generation of leaders to tackle our climate crisis,” two students from the class won funding to take their project to the next level and turn their creative projects into RTD bus ads. 

Image one of student dressed in sustainable fashion; Image two of student-made advertisement

At the top of page: RTD bus stops next to the CU Boulder campus with an advertisement featuring student-made sustainable fashion. Left: A student models green sustainable fashion in front of the Flatirons at Chautauqua Park. Right: The full design of an advertisement that landed on the side of an RTD in Boulder.

“Some students had their work selected for these advertisements on the buses, and each ad has QR codes that direct passengers to additional information on local thrift stores and sustainable fashion,” Osnes said.

“The project involved using sustainable materials to create clothing; we had students using recycled and thrifted fabrics, but also nontraditional materials like plastic bags,” Boykoff said.

“We then had students photograph themselves with their clothing and a full-body green suit underneath to create their final projects,” Osnes said. 

In class, students used the “Power of Ten” framework, meaning that they were “tasked with reaching 10 people in their own circles of influence,” according to Osnes. This method focuses on “suitably scaling sustainability” by having students connect with their peers and other areas of their lives where they are “trusted communicators,” Osnes said. 

“Our students ended up reaching 5,388 people, which stretched far beyond the original goal.”

Boykoff used the advertising project to partner with the city of Boulder  and Boulder County, which led to the launch of a new and expanded campaign from November 2022 through February 2023. “I had recently taken classes in marketing and advertising, and Beth and I got really interested in the power of advertisement not just for selling things, but to promote engagement and action in climate change,” Boykoff said.

Discussing what climate communication means to them, Osnes and Boykoff noted that people can approach communication as storytelling. “We already have the facts, but we need to find ways to connect with people and tell the story of our planet and climate change,” Osnes said. 

As a professor in CU’s Theatre and Dance Department also, Osnes says she believes these two subjects connect in meaningful ways: “Theater is always telling a story, and this is how we can approach climate messaging.” 

Image one of Beth Osnes; Image two of Max Boycoff

Left: Beth Osnes is an associate professor of theatre at CU Boulder and is an associate of the environmental studies faculty. Right: Max Boykoff is a professor and the chair of the Environmental Studies Program and is adjunct faculty in the Department of Geography. Boykoff is also a fellow in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Green Suits your Fashion was about more than just sustainability; it was about personalizing the movement and trying something new. “It gives students the chance to have fun and be creative, and it helps develop their technical skills and storytelling skills.” Boykoff said.

Creative Climate Communication is an undergraduate class focused on finding innovative solutions to communicate the facts and messages of climate change and is co-taught by Boykoff and Osnes. 

“This semester, we focused on climate and comedy, where students use similar techniques to communicate these messages, and work with professional comedians to put on showcases for the community,” Boykoff said. The Climate Change Comedy live show is set for Friday, April 21.

Osnes and Boykoff hope to continue using the Green Suits your Fashion project to connect with the community, spread their message and have fun while doing it. “We hope to continue coming up with new innovations and creative ways to communicate sustainability in the classroom and in our community,” Osnes said.