Go Green. How to communicate sustainability.
Sustainable Communication

Six things I’ve learned about communicating sustainability

You wanna learn how to communicate sustainability, right? Well, let’s do this together.

As part of my daily professional and volunteering activities, one thing I do is communicate social and environmental sustainability issues to a given audience by using digital platforms.

Sustainability communication isn’t just a business strategy for companies, institutions or organisations. It’s also an approach that individuals and organised groups can use in order to communicate the urgent message they need to get across.

I’ve therefore put myself on a learning curve to understand what’s the best way to communicate such issues to a wider audience.

Just as with any strategy, experimentation is fundamental: it’s indeed a never-ending work in progress, because people change, and so does digital communication. Also, both the planet and society do change, too, and exceptional events may require exceptional measures.

So this is what several mistakes and analyses made me understand.

1. Know your audience and have a clear goal

Well, this is nothing new actually. The very basic step you should take when crafting any communication strategy is having in mind what your audience and goal are. In the case of sustainability issues, it’s even more important due to its largely perceived abstractness.

Be sure you’ve got the answers to these questions:

  • Why do you want to communicate your idea?
  • Whom do you want to communicate your idea?
  • What do you want them to do afterwards?

An unclear audience and goal might result in poor, misleading communication. Besides, this step is also important in order to (see below)…

2. Make it simple, coherent and avoid greenwashing

Okay, we know what we’re talking about and can’t wait to share how our organisation or company is implementing the SDGs.

Wait, SDGs? What’s that?

Yep, Sustainable Development Goals from the well-known Agenda 2030 (again, is it really that well-known?).

Do not take for granted that your audience is aware of the real meaning of what you’re saying.

Let’s say you sell vegan shoes and want to increase your sales. It’s fine to state that if your customer buys your shoes, they’ll contribute to implementing a given SDG. However, you should explain what this means in a few, extremely simple words and why that might turn out to be important to them, even on a very practical level.

No need to shy away from the technical language of course, but do provide clear definitions and information anyone can understand and empathise with.

And avoid greenwashing, please, i.e. trying to appear more sustainable than you really are. It smells, and anyone can smell it 🙂 Don’t try to claim that you’re super sustainable if that’s not the case. If you produce plastic bottles, the environmental impact of your product is still high. Putting a message on the bottle saying this bottle respects the environment is just a deceptive lie.

This is why coherence is key. Would you trust someone who doesn’t practice what they preach?

3. Make it relatable – localise your content and your campaigns

Phenomena such as climate crises are generally perceived as if they were abstract and distant.

In addition, sustainability issues are perceived differently around the world, within a country and even within the same region depending on what people experience locally.

Some people may specifically suffer because of drought and wildfires; others because of floods. Others because the shores of their once beautiful oceans are polluted with plastics and oil.

For example, while engaging people to prevent the melting of glaciers is of utmost importance, try to make them understand why it is important for them, for the place where they live and/or the situation they’re experiencing.

Alternatively, try to focus on a local issue that affects them directly. It’s relatable and simple to understand.

4. Focus on the benefits

Help your audience understand the benefits they can get by adopting sustainable habits or fighting for the environmental cause. In other words, connect their choices to the benefits they can get in their everyday lives.

Let’s take energy efficiency as an example. Why should anyone who isn’t really interested in environmentalism install solar panels if their radiators work just fine? Yes, your answer could focus on the reason why that is important for the environment, but it could also include how this choice could benefit their wallet. Some people may understand energy efficiency more in terms of money rather than climate change.

It’s venal, and that’s a matter of fact. But you can get two birds with one stone and who knows what could happen after that.

5. Get ready to answer the question: “What can we do?”.

Data, infographics, beautifully crafted artworks and blog posts are great. However, one thing I’ve always been asked is “Well then, is there anything I can do to help?”.

Of course, there is. So, say it!

Tell your audience if there’s a local campaign they can adhere to.

Tell your audience to voice their opposition to destructive activities undertaken by a given actor.

Tell your audience how they can change their habits and make an impact, not necessarily overnight but step by step (it’s easier to do without ditching after a while, would you agree? :)), preferably without making them feel guilty if they can’t do something specific.

Tell them what they could do. Inform them. Guide them.

6. Include reliable and updated data and sources people to which people can refer to

Anyone can write anything on the internet today.

Anyone can write anything on the internet today.

Besides the deontological dimension, providing sources when using statistics or referencing reports is important to strengthen the reliability of your content.

Maybe nobody could care less, and that’s fine, the information is there anyway.

Maybe someone would just like to annoy you with questions like “And who says that?”, and the information is still there for them to verify.

Or maybe, you’ll get someone’s attention and they might decide to deepen their knowledge on the subject. And the information is thankfully there.

This is my list for the time being. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna add something new soon. What would you add next? Tell me in the comments!

Also, if you wanna dig deeper into sustainable communication, make sure to check my article!

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