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How do I communicate about sustainability in an effective way (without nature pictures)?

Today, many companies are engaged in sustainable production and business practices. In an ecologically-aware society, it’s important to give your branding a green boost. But how can you communicate about sustainability without resorting to clichés?

Here are a few tips: 

Storytelling: create an emotional and human link

Starting from a real person’s point-of-view is the key to telling effective stories about sustainability. These stories focus on a 'hero' or central character, and take the audience on a journey with them, through trials and tribulations, in the end arriving at a new destination (or perspective).

FMCG giant Unilever, for example, put consumers at the heart of its new food waste campaign by asking 12 British families to reduce their household waste by 25% while saving 15% on food bills. The average family in the UK wastes £680 on food every year. These families then shared their experiences through video diaries and became the 'heroes’ of the story.

The campaign - entitled the 'Sustain Ability Challenge' - is the latest activity from Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan, which aims to reduce the firm's environmental footprint by 50% by the end of 2020, and boost its positive social impact.

Avoid greenwashing*, always be transparent

Greenwashing - when you, as a company, pretend to be greener or more socially responsible than you actually are – is a dangerous risk. Consumers are smart and in today's information age they can easily check your sustainability claims and goals. Walk the talk. And when you set sustainability goals and don't meet them, you need to communicate why they were not met and what you will do about it in the near future.

Make it positive

Global warming is already alarming enough without people being constantly reminded of a doom-and-gloom scenario. So communicate the positive aspects of sustainability, not the negative.

Keep it relevant

Provide context and make your message relevant. For example, when you talk about CO2 emissions, consumers find it hard to imagine what 50 grams or 20,000 tons of carbon really means. But they do understand what a flight to Europe or a cup of tea is. Use examples like these to make your message clearer and stronger at the same time. But beware of parallels that are too easy, since they can turn against you.

Choose your certifications strategically

Don't choose just any sustainability label/certificate. Some will have more relevance for your company than others. Do your research on this. As a company, ask yourself the question: "Which certificate is relevant to my business and target groups? Mentioning too many certificates can also dilute the impact of any individual certificate, so be cautious not to promote too many.

Contact us, we can help you find the best ways to share your story and optimize the impact for all of your audiences. I’m sure we have some great ideas.


* "Greenwashing", an opportunistic attitude that is usually challenged by consumers and then returns as a boomerang with a negative hit. Telling your sustainability story with honesty and authenticity is very important for credibility. Walk the talk.

Anne-Mie Vansteelant
Anne-Mie Vansteelant
COO | Managing Partner at Living Stone

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