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Iain Stewart – Selling the Planet: communicating with purpose

Updated: May 10

1Royal Scientific Society, Amman, JORDAN

1Sustainable Earth Institute, University of Plymouth, Pl4 8AA, UK

Earth scientists have a critical role to play in communicating to publics and policy makers what we know about looming societal threats from climate change, extreme natural events, resource conflicts and the energy transition. But whilst geoscientists are encouraged - and, increasingly, trained - to ‘go public’ with their science, what is less clear is to what extent our current geo-communications are effectively addressing the long-term planetary concerns that confront society. Operating at the interface between the research organisations that produce knowledge and the wider public who could use that knowledge, geoscientists are akin to marketers in the business world [1]. Drawing from the dominant paradigms that shape business marketing, the prevailing models of science communication are re-cast and their consequent sense of purpose is appraised. Three dominant modes of marketing-led science communication modes are identified: ‘make-and-sell’; ‘sense-and-respond’; and ‘guide-and-co-create’. It is contended that the newly emergent guide-and-co-create mode is best placed to tackle long-term geo-environmental concerns but its wider implementation requires a rethinking of science communication, which in turn requires institutional regime change towards universities becoming purpose-led organisations.

Fig 1. The science-public communication landscape in the context of ‘make-and-sell’, ‘sense-and-respond’, and ‘guide and co-create’ marketing paradigms.

[1] Stewart, I.S. and Hurth, V., 2021. Selling Planet Earth: re-purposing geoscience communications. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 508.


Iain Stewart is the El Hassan bin Talal Research Chair in Sustainability at the Royal Scientific Society (Amman, Jordan), Visiting Professor in Environmental Studies at Ashoka University, India, and Professor of Geoscience Communication at the University of Plymouth. The founding director of the University of Plymouth’s ‘Sustainable Earth Institute’, Iain’s long-standing research interests are in natural hazards, sustainable geoscience, and earth science communication. His geo-communication work has built on a 15 year partnership with BBC television presenting geoscience programmes (notably ‘Earth: The Power of the Planet’, ‘Earth: The Climate Wars’, ‘How Earth Made Us’, ‘How To Grow A Planet’, ‘The Rise of the Continents’ and ‘Planet Oil) and recently was academic advisor on the BBC’s acclaimed landmark series ‘Severn Worlds, One Planet’. Awarded an MBE for his services to geography and geology education, he currently holds a UNESCO Chair in Geoscience and Society.

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