The 12 Commandments of Sustainability Communication
Anyone who has to do with communication about sustainability in their job, be it as a journalist, advertiser, spokesman or whatever function, can follow a few key principles of sustainability communication. Of course, these rules also apply to many other topics that is communicated about. But when it comes to sustainability, they are especially important. When it comes to sustainability, communication is often about convincing people of sustainable behavior. And convincing people to do something specific is never easy.
1) Pure reason will never win!
The fewest (purchase) decisions are conscious. Therefore, it does not do much to demand sustainability only where conscious decisions are made. Information usually also needs an emotional component if the goal is to make habits of conscious action and conscious action habitual.
2) Put it straight!
Sustainability is complex. Even though there are hardly any simple answers to difficult questions, clear statements and clear messages help. When explaining the background and context of sustainability a simple rule helps: As complex as necessary, as simple as possible.
3) Make costs transparent!
Sustainability is worthwhile. This is why the disadvantages of not having sustainability are clear and put cost-benefit calculations into the long term. Only when short-term additional costs for sustainability commitment become recognizable as an investment in the future they do appear attractive and meaningful.
4) A picture can say so much!
Facts, data and complex relations are important for communicating about sustainability. They are most effective when visualized. The imagery of sustainability communication does not end with melting glaciers and starving polar bears.
5) Do not let it go!
Every day, people are reached by several thousand messages – mostly advertising. Most of them are only perceived unconsciously. Those which do not constantly repeat their concerns are drowned out in this information overload.
6) Nobody is just a spectator!
“Someone will take care of it.” This attitude is called the Bystander Effect — the onlooker effect. Sustainability has no spectators. Therefore, communication has to show and open scope for action: “On space ship earth, there are no passengers, we are all crew”.
7) Use the right opportunities!
Everybody comes into phases of life in which the openness to new things is especially great: when the school days start and when they end, all about marriage, career entry, offspring or when changing places. Let’s take advantage of these opportunities and target specific groups that are in these windows.
8) No moral superiority!
Nobody likes moral pointing fingers. Anyone who encounters people with moral superiority and advises them to take action that is perceived as a restriction of freedoms often meets reflexive rejection. The communicative tightrope walk between instruction and advice needs the right tone.
9) The future has begun!
The future will start tomorrow at the earliest. But didn’t we say that yesterday already? The truth is: the future has long since begun. Therefore, we should not make sustainable action for the future. Anyone who recognizes his latitude in the present can start using it today.
10) Choose trustworthy ambassadors!
Not everyone is suitable as a testimonial for sustainability. That is why it is important in the communication of and about sustainability to choose suitable multipliers. These can be pioneers and originals whose stories show that sustainability is not utopia. The credibility is important.
11) Sapiens are pack animals, mostly.
The vast majority of people are part of groups that are linked by family, origin, milieu, identity, interests or even habits. People are therefore particularly well-suited to being part of groups. It can help to stimulate sustainability by addressing the values or the origin of groups.
12) Say thank you!
Anyone who contributes to solving problems through his purchasing decisions, his behavior or his efforts should also get a pat on the back. That is why it is important to repeatedly say thank you for what has already been achieved. This helps to strengthen beliefs and encourages motivation for more effort.