Communicating sustainability – lessons learnt from the best

The Guardian has just published an eBook, Innovation and inspiration in corporate sustainability, containing 111 case studies on the most innovative sustainability projects from the winners and runners-up of the 2014 Guardian Sustainable Business Awards.

As stated in the introduction of the book, “these case studies represent those people and projects which are helping businesses do better and be better”.

The book is well worth a read to learn about the inspiring projects that challenge the status quo, promote change, and champion innovation and positive leadership. They also show the importance of good communications in promoting sustainability, and summarize what helps spread your message and get the audience (the recipients of our communications efforts) involved.

Here are six things we can learn from the best communications-related case studies:

1) Communicate sustainability using visual and interactive tools (tailored to your audience)

  • GabiH2O created an animated camel Gabi that has captured the imagination of children in educational spots on Nickelodeon and Nicktoons TV, rapping to promote water use. GabiH2O: Campaign involving animated camel saves UK 540m litres of water a year
  • Around 200 young people in two cities in India, mentored by renowned artists, created music, dance, flash mobs, plays, puppetry, photography and digital design pieces to encourage everyone to change their consumption habits by making more sustainable choices, reaching out to over 50,000 people. Nokia: Dancing its way to a sustainable future
  • Sainsbury created quirky, surreal and fun films, featuring its employees, to communicate to staff, customers and other stakeholders its 20×20 Sustainability Plan. Sainsbury’s: Explaining sustainability goals using movies
  • PwC explained the importance of sustainability to its UK workforce using, amongst other things, an interactive 3D timeline that explained how sustainability had gained such prominence in recent years, and a short animation that took an everyday product – the mobile phone – and demonstrated how sustainability could reveal risks and opportunities in areas including minerals and human rights. 15,000 of its 17,000 staff watched it within three months. PwC: Giving employees the confidence to discuss sustainability with clients
  • Carbon Tracker used, amongst other tools, a “talkie” animation and interactive map which brought the data to life with a simple explanation of how coal, oil and gas reserves are distributed across the world’s leading stock exchanges and the likely impact of tougher climate change policies. The judges agreed that Carbon Tracker’s use of design and infographics was extremely effective. Carbon Tracker: Changing the financial language of climate change

2) Be transparent (and never lie) to help consumers make informed choices and spark debate

  • In admitting its food waste figures, Tesco set out to raise awareness of the issue, spark national debate and encourage industry-wide change. Tesco: Sparkling the debate on food waste
  • Nestlé has introduced barcodes, scannable by smartphone, that make nutritional and product lifecycle information (revealing raw materials, manufacturing, packaging and distribution) instantly accessible to consumers. Although still in its early stages, over 25,000 people have used the Kit Kat QR barcodes. Nestlé: “Beyond the label” initiative
  • Carlsberg UK’s displays all its sustainability news and developments in one place (website) with informative, visually-led content, helping the company deliver strong, focused messages and clearly articulate what it stands for. Carlsberg: Makes website about its social enterprise achievements
  • Positive Luxury’s butterfly mark, awarded to over 300 high quality brands, tells a brand’s sustainability story by revealing its social, environmental and philanthropic efforts on a website. Positive Luxury: Butterfly mark creates a community of brands

3) Remember about the importance of internal communications (in order to make the idea of sustainability more understandable to your staff). Many case studies have shown the importance of employees’ awareness (and understanding) of both the company’s sustainability strategy and the ways to live more sustainably on a personal level.

  • AT&T’s initiative that invited every employee to “do one thing”(dot) – from exercising dogs to keeping office waste out of landfill – has helped to save $351,138, some 552 trees and 18,310,294 gallons of water. Dot has helped employees shed 34,161 pounds, volunteer for 127,906 hours, and took 643 cars off the road. AT&T: Encouraging employees to ‘do one thing’ for sustainability
  • Wingland Foods aimed to empower its staff to think differently about waste, and set up supply chain collaborations with farmers, community groups and customers as well as other food manufactures. Now 96% of Wingland’s waste is reused every month, electricity consumption has been reduced to its lowest level since 2006, and water consumption cut by 30%. WasteSolve: Helping Lincolnshire food firm to transform its waste policies

4) Get employees on board to make your sustainability efforts more credible, and to create a sense of ownership

  • Several Carlsberg’s employees share (online) their contribution to reduce Carlsberg’s impact on the environment and improve its products. Spotlighting Carlsberg’s UK workforce has helped to reward employees’ efforts and provide a sense of ownership of the company’s sustainability achievements. Seeing their peers in action on screen has inspired more employees to get involved. Carlsberg: Makes website about its social enterprise achievements
  • PwC has empowered its UK workforce to discuss sustainability with clients through internal, non-mandatory training explaining how sustainability had gained such prominence in recent years. As a result, 74% – 12,200 staff – felt confident enough to speak about it to clients; and 60% intended to include sustainability conversations as a matter of course in their client work in future. PwC: Giving employees the confidence to discuss sustainability with clients
  • Sainsbury’s employees play a starring role in the company’s films that explain the company’s sustainability strategy (more explained above)

5) Don’t underestimate the power of reality TV – the influential and educational role of East Enders in the UK has been widely publicised. In Kenya, during each episode of “Shamba Shape Up”, the presenter and agricultural experts visit a farm to demonstrate sustainable ways of improving crops or rearing dairy, cattle and chickens as well as helping farms adapt to climate change. Research shows dramatic improvements in viewers’ knowledge, attitude and farming practices. 46% of viewers have changed the way they farm. Mediae: Making farming tips irresistible for Kenyan farmers

6) Sometimes a prize can help too

  • A Sheffield marketing company, diva, promoted a local sustainable travel website along with promotional tickets to encourage young people to use buses, which has increased the traffic to the website by 80% and increased – for the first time in half a century – the number of young people using buses. diva creative: encouraging young people to use buses
  • Online competitions offered prizes including a singing toothbrush, activity books and trump cards for school children learning how to save water (more on the campaign above). GabiH2O: Campaign involving animated camel saves UK 540m litres of water a year

Download your free members copy of the eBook here and “get the inspiration you need for your business, big or small”.

About martas2912

Sustainable tourism specialist with communications, marketing and stakeholder engagement background, specialising in sustainable destination management and Protected Areas (PA) tourism. Advised and provided training on responsible tourism development for several international organizations in the Caucasus, the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe. Speaker and trainer. Mentor and an Associate Staff member at Leeds Beckett University for the MSc in Responsible Tourism Management course, focussing all academic research on mountain and PA tourism in the Caucasus
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