I write a lot about making sustainability mainstream – with the ultimate goal of it becoming table stakes for all products. That’s a heart-warming objective for sure but we’ll never achieve it until we realize that communicating sustainability cannot be safely targeted only to those we would immediately expect to embrace the message.
Sustainability is not an issue only embraced and owned by those who swing to the left. It can be, and is, accepted by consumers and business decision makers on both sides of the political aisle. A hunter can have the same passion for the forest as an environmentalist; a CEO may decide to build a green building because he/she wants to conserve resources…or because of the ROI. It just depends on how the decision-maker views the world and how the sustainable choice is presented.
Beware of audience bias.
Successful sustainability communication starts with a good understanding of the audiences that are out there ready to receive. After working for more than a decade with different research focused on sustainability audiences, it’s clear that there is sometimes a bias we all need to watch out for.
Audience segmentation is a foundational tool for great communication but if the segments are skewed your voice will be also. The best research and segmentation will represent the value of sustainable thinking across all groups equally. Data can be twisted into many shapes through collection and interpretation. So make sure you aren’t missing out on new or unique audiences due to one-sided segments that make you feel good.
Sustainable products and services will be valued by everyone, if you’re delivering a message everyone can see value in.
Just look at the Amish and Mennonite communities: These groups, which have been staunch resistors of change in many respects, are first leaders in the organic agriculture and natural foods movement.
And the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System, a system heavily supported by (gasp) hunters, currently contains 150 million acres of land – almost twice the 84.6 million acres managed by the National Park Service.
If you want a business example, look no father than Walmart. Say what you will, the company that everyone seems to hate in one way or another is an amazing model for how a commitment to sustainability can not only transform a company, but an entire supply chain.
To bring sustainability into the mainstream, it’s going to take all of us. So our messaging has to give ALL of us a reason to get on board.