How to communicate sustainability

14 Nov

IMHO one of the sustainability areas we are struggling with is that of communication. Sure, there are some neat green ads out there, and maybe some smart campaigns and initiatives, and arresting visuals, as we mentioned here. But how much is really changing at the ground level? How much transformation are we effecting?

A lot of the messages going out about any aspect of sustainable development, and there are a whole host of attention vieers (just look at our lorem sustaina ipsum for a few), are based on one dimension, on one premise.

They are positioned mostly in the intellect, in knowledge and facts, such as when you are confronted with CO2e or virtual water data for consumer goods, with rise in global temperatures and sea levels data, or with numbers of species or forest units lost per second. The message senders hope in vain for a mental light to be switched on in the darkness of unsustainable habits and activities and an immediate conversion from Unsustainable Saul to Sustainable Paul.

NGOs and CSOs and some individual Sustainability Missionaries tend to position their messages in the emotions, making sure they are personal and designing them to touch you. Suffering animals, people and planet are a recurring motif. But a Bleeding Heart has largely moved people to donate time or money on a guilt-filled once-off excursion.

There are to date very, very few communication initiatives that position themselves solely in a do-message, in an active principle, in action. Maybe the various challenges, like the 100-things challenge would qualify for this dimension.

I think Messages for Sustainability, to be successful, need to Speak to the Head, the Heart and the Hand in concert. If you are not explaining to someone’s mind, while reaching for their empathy and giving them a leg-up to get doing, your message is not going to work sustainably.

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