From her position at the nexus of science, politics and advocacy Vikki Spruill P’12, president and CEO of the Ocean Conservancy, discussed the connections between the ocean, climate change and the policy change necessary to preserve our oceans during her President’s Forum Series lecture on Thursday night.
“First, I’d like you to consider a few things,” said Spruill, addressing the standing-room-only crowd in the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library. “The oceans provide much of the food, much of the protein that feeds the world, the rain that feeds our lakes and rivers. The oceans are responsible for half of the oxygen in the next breath you take.”
Spruill’s talk, “Creating a Climate for Change in Ocean Conservation,” focused primarily on the challenges of climate change faced by those in her field.
“We think of climate as atmospheric-as something ‘out there,'” Spruill said. “But the ocean is really where the rubber meets the road with climate change. The ocean is a buffer. You may think the weather now is erratic, but without the ocean, it would be even less stable. The ocean is really the unsung hero of climate change.”
Spruill pointed out that as a result of climate change, the Ocean Conservancy, which advocates for the protection of the oceans, has to consider and contend with, in addition to rises in temperature, rising sea levels, droughts, floods, hurricanes, decreases in ocean salinity, acidification and many other problems.
“Meeting climate change head on is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime,” Spruill said.
Drawing on her background in public relations and communications, Spruill outlined the ways in which she lobbies and garners support for the Ocean Conservancy agenda.
“Making a difference requires change,” she said. “The question is: how can we create the kind of change that’s necessary? My experience in Washington has taught me that in a democracy, the key to making change is effective communication.”
In four bullet points-know your audience; find a champion for change; marketing, marketing, marketing; and stay the course-she described how she gets “people thinking about how these issues affect their daily lives.”
“The facts-just the facts-are never enough,” Spruill said. “You have to engage the head and the heart.”
Spruill began serving as head of the Ocean Conservancy in 2006. Prior to her appointment at the Ocean Conservancy, she was president and founder of SeaWeb, a non-profit organization that uses strategic communications techniques to advance ocean conservation.
Prior to SeaWeb, Spruill spent 15 years in public relations, including five years as a senior vice president at Ruder Finn, one of the largest independently-held public relations firms in the world, where she was responsible for client management and new business development. Spruill is a member of the board of directors for Sky Truth and sits on the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program Steering Committee. She is currently a director of COMPASS, the Communications Partnership for Science and the Sea. Spruill serves on the Advisory Committee for the Ocean Hall of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum and the Conservation Committee of the SeaChange Investment Fund. She is also a newly appointed member of the Pew Fellows Advisory Committee. Most recently, Spruill founded FoundationWorks, a nonprofit organization helps foundations utilize strategic communications.
Spruill graduated cum laude from Loyola University in New Orleans with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in religious studies. She received her master’s degree, also in communications, from the University of West Florida.
Check the HWS Colleges Twitter feed from Spruill’s President’s Forum Series lecture for updates made live during the lecture by Andrew Donovan ’12.
The next President’s Forum speaker, Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will join the spring 2010 Series on Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Smith Opera House. All are encouraged to attend.
Established in the winter of 2000 by President Mark D. Gearan, the Series is designed to bring a variety of speakers to campus to share their knowledge and ideas with students, faculty and staff of the Colleges, as well as with interested community members.