Monday, June 21, 2010

Best Practices for Communicating Sustainability

Businesses need to understand how to communicate sustainability in a way that not only conveys environmental initiatives, but enhances the internal and external brand.

As reviewed in previous posts, sustainability provides innovative opportunities to reduce costs and reap long-term benefits while also increasing employee morale and commitment to the organization.

However, communicating sustainability is about more than information. Effective communications change behavior, while information alone does not always lead to action.

Effectively communicating sustainability is about attractive campaigns that make sustainable lifestyles fashionable and cool without being superficial. Marketing support including a logo, advertising, video and presentations can also help to communicate sustainability.

Effective strategies for sustainable communications involve clearly defining the target audiences and developing a corresponding message. The message objectives need to be concrete, clear, realistic and achievable. It is often better to focus on a single issue rather than numerous different points.

Decide how these objectives will be achieved by developing message(s) and defining channel(s). Do not overload an audience with information; maintain a common theme throughout all the aspects of the campaign. Identify how the particular audience prefers to receive information; consider how social networks could be used to communicate the message.

Conduct audience research using focus groups or telephone surveys. Find out what motivates the target audience, determine what they read, watch and listen to.

Perform a SLEPT Analysis (Social, Legal, Environmental, Political and Technical issues) that might affect the campaign.

To assist with planning and implementation, develop a timeline that identifies communications milestones. Set up a green team steering group, as well as a campaign coordinator.

Continually measure and evaluate the communications. Establish what will be measured and how. Seek audience feedback, then document and report this evaluation. Make the plan and the assessment metrics readily accessible to team members and update them as needed.

Tailor all sustainable communications to the culture in which they are being launched. For a useful guide to communicating sustainability see the publication by Futerra and UNEP.
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1 comment:

Tim Kovach said...

Interesting article, Richard. I work for a small business organization on energy efficiency and sustainability issues, and I find several of your points to be particularly relevant for SMEs.

For SMEs that are making the effort to become more sustainable, communicating this to their customers can be particularly challenging. Trying to focus their marketing message around one or two key issues is an important concept, as you point out, because it can help to paint the picture in a clearer manner, rather than trying to lob several less clear arguments at once.

It is also essential for SMEs to know their audiences and cater the message to them. It may not be the best decision to just detail the environmental virtues of your company if your customers are not particularly concerned about your footprint. Instead, SMEs can point out how the efficiency standards have helped them to lower operating costs and improve accuracy, which may then allow them to produce a high quality product at a comparable or even lower price.

These are types of messages that sustainable SMEs need to focus on and be prepared to make. So I appreciate you covering that in this article, as it can be particularly difficult for SMEs to accurately detail their efforts - they may often end up greenwashing or, perhaps more likely, greenblushing (not detailing their efforts for one reason or another).

- Tim Kovach,
Product Coordinator, Energy at COSE
www.cose.org/blog
www.twitter.com/COSEenergy