Use Language People Understand when Talking about Sustainability

Clients ask us how to “sell” sustainability within their organizations. “How can I get people to care?” We all have to acknowledge that one of the biggest problems with the environmental movement over the past 25 years is that it has often focused on what people should care about and why. Those looking to pursue sustainability have often pushed their own thoughts on others instead of listening to those people’s concerns, finding common ground and communicating in a language that both parties understand. Identifying issues that stakeholders care most about and tailoring your message around those topics is the best advice we can give to anyone trying to market sustainability on a large scale.

Look at salmon in the Pacific Northwest. For years, scientists have been screaming about the potentially catastrophic consequences to salmon if we don’t change our practices. The problem is that most customers don’t care about farmed salmon weakening the genetic diversity of wild salmon. It’s too far removed from them. What they do care about is how salmon tastes, what chemicals and dyes were used and how it affects their health. These health and taste concerns are all impacted by the same root cause that has scientists up in arms. So, rather than engaging customers around issues of genetic diversity, they should engage consumers on the issues they care about the most.

It’s important to keep the salmon example in mind when trying to communicate sustainability within an organization. Think about the top concerns that are likely within each department, and always tie your message back to what a particular individual truly cares about. For example, if you’re addressing the finance department within a company, focus on ways that sustainability will improve the bottom line. If you are instead addressing the human resources department, realize that their main priority is likely not bottom line performance. Instead, edit your message to emphasize how adopting sustainability will attract better talent and improve retention. If you are conveying your message to PR and marketing, let those individuals know how sustainability will create brand value and positive press. Think deeply about what stakeholders really care about and use those issues to promote your message. Just remember, if you want people to care and engage around sustainability you have to put it in language they relate to and understand.