The hot topic of conversation at the Sustainable Brands conference was about how to change the way we communicate our sustainability programs and missions. “Let’s quit talking about sustainability like nerds”, Ian Rosenberger of Thread said. Let’s not be so dry, so convoluted in our messaging that people tune us out. 

If your audience is not on board with your message - if they’re not hearing your message in the first place - then your sustainability program is as good as a house of cards in a windstorm. 

More and more companies are hopping on board the reuse and sustainability train not only because they believe in making the world a better place, but also because it serves as a means to engage with fans, employees, and their community. 

But the million dollar question remains: How do you communicate it in a way that speaks to your audience? 

Start with “why”

Maybe a better question to start with is, “Why are we building a sustainability program in the first place?” Like Simon Sinek preached in Start With Why, our “why” is much more impactful, meaningful, and well-received than our “how’s” and our “what’s”. The “why” gets people involved in the story.   

Try this exercise with your team: 

As a group, answer the question of why you decided to spend time, energy, and resources on a sustainability or reuse program. Was it a no-brainer because it falls right in line with your mission and values? Or maybe it was because you saw an opportunity to break the mold of your industry, or to have a positive impact on future generations? Write down all of your answers and narrow them down to one statement that sums up your “why”. 

Avoid the seven deadly sins

Betsy Henning, CEO and founder of AHA! walked us through the seven deadly sins of sustainability communication - the things all of us should avoid when talking about our programs.  

Once you’ve determined your “why”, conduct an audit of your communications - do they commit any of the following sins? 

  1. Your message is way too dry
  2. It’s all rainbows and butterflies
  3. Your audience needs a dictionary to understand
  4. Your message doesn't mean what you think
  5. There are a million interpretations
  6. It sounds so generic
  7. Your message follows a different story every  time

You might go so far as printing these out and taping them to your desk as a reminder of how not to communicate when you’re writing your next email, pitch, or marketing piece about your sustainability program. Try not to sound like a robot and instead, get your audience involved in the conversation.  

Communicate what you want to say

The next time you sit down to write out an email, website copy, a speech, or marketing materials focused on your sustainability programs, throw caution to the wind and write down exactly what you wish you could say. Let go of brand standards, voice, and tone requirements for a minute. If you were reading it, what would you want to hear? 

“The language we’re using is not relatable. People in other parts of the business are tuning us out.” 
-Chief Sustainability Officer of a Fortune 500

This exercise can be a powerful one, because you might uncover a message that you may never have found under your current restrictions. And, once you’ve weeded out the seven deadly sins and focused in on your “why” statement, what you come up with might end up being pure gold because it’s relatable, conversational, and true. 

Bringing it all together

To recap, if you’re looking to communicate your sustainability message like a human rather than a robot, try these steps:

  1. Create your “why” statement
  2. Stop committing the seven deadly communication sins
  3. Communicate in a way that your audience actually understands

And, these steps are not limited to sustainability - you can apply this to any message.

Your turn:

How do you communicate your company’s sustainability message? What works?  What doesn’t? Let us know in the comments!