How to make a climate change colouring book for world leaders

Using infographics and illustration to inspire change.

Australia is burning - but so are passions to lead the change against the current climate crisis, especially within the creative community.

A good example is The Infographic Energy Transition Coloring Book, an award-winning collection of infographic spreads put together by Berlin creative agency Ellery Studio.

Now on its third edition, the book educates adults on climate and energy transition by breaking down an intimidating subject through very playful illustrations and graphics. The main aim by Ellery is to distinguish the book from the often daunting narrative on climate topics, and as the spreads below show, they've pulled it off with some aplomb.

But how was this achieved exactly? And which world leaders need to be sent a copy ASAP to colour in at home? We caught up with the book's infographic lead and Ellery Studio’s visual strategy lab head Bernd Riedel to find out more, along with book project lead Anika Nicolaas Ponder, who by day leads the team at Berlin's IKEM Institute for Climate Protection, Energy & Mobility.

With all the changes since 2018, what did you retool for this new edition of The Infographic Energy Transition Coloring Book?

"When we published the first edition at the end of 2017, the last pages of the book focused on the importance of grassroots movements in the shaping of public discourse on climate change.

"Soon after, Fridays for Future swept the world, and we knew we had to include a new infographic about this global phenomenon for the new edition.

"Of course, a lot of other things have changed over the last two years, too. And while the message of our colouring book is still very much topical, some of the data was a bit out of date. There has been a lot of progress in many of the fields we highlighted, like the share of renewable energy in Germany or the generation capacity of wind farms. We felt a strong need to show that progress."

What's the best way to present this progress in a way that both educates and entertains?

"The research and data on these topics are all out there, often for free. The challenge was to select the most salient topics and craft a coherent narrative. If there’s too much information all at once, people tend to throw their hands up and disengage. We wanted to make something that was both scientifically accurate and visually rich.

"Infographics are a great tool to break down complex data into accessible visuals. Making these infographics colourable gives readers a way to take a breath and reflect on the information presented in the book.

"Creating an infographic that can be read on multiple levels is a lot of work; it requires translating statistics that can be quite dry and going through many iterations to get the tone, density, and feel of the illustrations just right. It required many collaborative sessions of sketching and dialogue between IKEM’s research team and Ellery Studio’s illustrators and infographic artists."

What's the key to making a good colouring book for adults?

"This book shows facts and figures in a light-hearted, easily accessible way. Add to that the colouring feature, and you have a format that engages multiple senses at the same time. It’s tactile, it’s fun, and it’s something that you have to put your phone down and experience in the here and now.

"Our goal was to expand on the concept of what a colouring book is by adding infographics and data as the content that carries the book. That meant learning how to create fun colouring book pages, and at the same time figuring out how to design infographics using only outlines."

You say your aim is to trigger behavioural change with this book, and I'm wondering how you went about this?

"We know that climate change is an extremely pressing issue. Most people acknowledge that we need to do something, but beyond that many don’t know what’s being done and what the policy options are for the future.

"Our goal in creating this book was to motivate people to care about, think about, and talk about climate change and the shift to renewable energy. One of the core messages of our book is that each individual can have a big impact, even though the challenges we’re up against seem daunting.

"We’d like the visual story and call-to-action in our book to inspire people to see this global challenge in personal terms — to consider how climate change and the energy transition affect their own lives and envision the future they want to help build.

"By drawing a broad audience of all ages into the conversation, we’re hoping to communicate a sense of urgency and empower people to act on these issues now, together."

What information from your research gives the greatest hope for our future?

"Germany’s Energiewende — a massive national shift to renewables — is the jumping-off point for this book. It’s a process that started far earlier in Germany than in other countries, so there are a lot of lessons to be drawn from what’s worked well here and what hasn’t.

"Where advocacy is concerned, I’d say that the strength of this book is that it debunks myths about renewable energy and shines a light on opportunities that are often overlooked. We’re a big fan of the 'Subsidy Pie' infographic: it counters the argument that renewables are expensive by showing that they only receive a tiny share of subsidies, most of which continue to flow to fossil fuels and nuclear power."

And which gave you cause for concern?

'Dude, Where’s My Electric Car?' is an infographic showing how Germany is falling short of its sustainability targets in the mobility sector — which is, sadly, still almost entirely powered by fossil fuels.

"The shift to renewable energy has mainly taken place in the electricity sector, while little progress has been made in the heating and mobility sectors. We make a point of calling that out — if we want to keep our planet liveable, current patterns need to change fast!"

So which world leader needs to read this book ASAP?

"We met with Angela Merkel early this year, she took ten minutes of her extremely valuable time to look at it! That was a very satisfying achievement for us of course. And while Germany should still ramp up its ambitions in order to reach global climate targets on time, at least there is an understanding on a national level that fossil fuels should be a thing of the past. There are many countries that do not yet recognise or act on that.

"Almost every country should accelerate the shift to sustainable energies. The ones that could make the biggest impact on keeping our planet green and cool would be the ones that contribute the most to global emissions. Right now, that would be China and the United States. A tough audience, but perhaps their leaders can be swayed to check the book out with the beautiful visuals and comforting activity of colouring!"

Find out more on The Infographic Energy Transition Coloring Book on the My Energy Transition site.

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