3 Tips for Communicating Sustainable Development

A while back (5 years ago), UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) commissioned Futerra of UK produced this guide on communicating sustainability that is use for public campaign. So no small task here.

“Informed, motivated, and committed people can help us achieve our sustainable goals. However communicating effectively about sustainable lifestyles is a challenge. One needs to consider not only what to communicate, but how to communicate it.” –  Klaus Topfer, UNEP

The top 3 tips for communicating sustainable development:

1. Targeting works.

“Targeting a specific audience with a defined message is often more effective – and cheaper – than raising awareness on a grand scale through advertising.”

Segment audience by demographics, i.e. age, gender. Each group will respond to different message, tone and voice. Word your messages and choose your communication channels carefully. Defining your message is also important. It’s not necessary to communicate the entire concept all at once, but rather doing it in a single issue. 

2. Be inspiring.

Tell a story. Use the drama of the challenges and the excitement of the solutions. Suggestion: you may need to link sustainability (or sustainable development) with other issues, i.e. health, wealth or jobs, or aspirations such as home, or self, or improvement. 

Annie Leonard, with The Story of Stuff project, is a good story teller. She uses cartoon to illustrate very serious subject. Check this one out, her recent video on the Story of Cosmetics

3. Make it personal and practical

It’s what’s-in-it-for-me kind of thing. Valuable lessons from psychology that people are motivated:

  • To know and understand what is going on; they hate being confused.
  • To learn, discover, and explore: they prefer information getting information at their own pace and answering their own questions. 
  • To participate and play a key role in what’s going on around them; they hate feeling incompetent  or helpless. 

This campaign below from New Zealand received an overwhelming response from the public. Based on their research, they targeted educated women with children. The Ministry of Environment’s website, to date received an increase of 174% traffic to the site, high demand of booklets, PR generated 85,000 opportunities to be read by audience and print readership of 1.9 million (83.3% women aged 25-34 with children).


image: UNEP Gallery on creative ads

These three tips use by some governments and organizations to communicate the message is applicable to business situations. Empowered business can apply similar strategy to engage their stakeholders – internally (rank-and-file employees) and externally (consumers, etc.) – to meet their objectives. Change will be easier when the whole company shares the vision.

You can read the full report on communicating sustainability here


Author: Dewita

Co-founder Ecotwist Labs.

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