What to do — and not to do — in your sustainability communications

September 22, 2021 • 3 minute read

Communicating your organization’s sustainability goals and programs can be a daunting task. As the urgency of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution increase, consumers are forming their own expectations of organizations’ and brands’ sustainability efforts — and they’re much better at seeing through the “greenwashing”, a marketing ploy to make companies look more environmentally friendly. 

Take BP’s carbon footprint calculator. Did you know that BP actually coined the term “carbon footprint” back in 2004? It’s now a common term used by many to calculate and communicate their own environmental impacts. However, BP has finally come under fire for what this campaign really is: manipulative marketing that puts the onus of climate change solutions on the individual rather than corporations like themselves. 

What’s *your* carbon footprint BP?

Yes, that’s an egregious example, but it can help illuminate the ways in which your own sustainability messaging can go wrong or right. 

First and foremost, the key to not greenwashing is transparency. Before you communicate around sustainability, ask the question, “what do we do to mitigate our impacts on the environment?” If, as an organization, you haven’t determined your greatest strains on the environment and developed a plan to address those, put this post up in your bookmarks tab and come back once that sustainability work has started. 

If your organization does have a plan and has started to make progress, talk to the teams doing that work and ask them to share their numbers. Communicating your organization’s tangible progress alongside its goals and motivations for environmental sustainability should be the heart of your message.

Our client partner Zoetis laid out their environmental aspirations AND their plan to get there.

Next, think about your audience and why environmental sustainability is important to them. Are you a local organization whose community faces specific concerns like wildfires, drought, pollution, or erosion? Are your supporters predominantly parents likely to be worried about their children’s futures? There are many ways in which your mission intersects with environmentalism and that nuance will help you speak to supporters in a more personal way. 

Tom’s of Maine focused on funding environmental science for kids in its home state of Maine.=

Our last tip is to bring your organization’s work and your audience’s motivations together. We are constantly seeing dire predictions and news alerts about the impacts of climate change. Your messaging doesn’t need to add to that. Instead, celebrate progress and become your supporters’ partner in taking action. Leading with aspiration gives environmental sustainability the incredible potential to bring people together and deepen your relationship with your supporters. 

Patagonia offers support for those ready to take action — all under the message of feeling good about that action.

If you want to hear more about how Fwd People can help you with your sustainability communications – get in touch.

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