When it comes to communicating sustainability we need to employ simple narratives that are clear and compelling. Some of the most unlikely sectors of the economy can teach us a great deal about communicating sustainability. Beef producers have been the target of environmentally concerned people for decades. As a consequence, they have been forced to develop capable communication strategies.
While some may scoff, North America beef producers have adopted a cogent communications strategy. Although it may seem like an oxymoron or even greenwash sustainable beef producers have become proficient at the art of sustainability-focused communications.
An October 16th, 2017 panel discussion at the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) Communications Summit in Denver explored the best practices in sustainability communications. Here are some of the critical points that emerged from the gathering.
Participants at that summit hit the nail on the head when they stated, “we need to communicate clear, compelling and factual messages describing current practices that enhance sustainability and measurable progress toward future sustainability goals.”
The differing geophysical realities of livestock producers precludes simple prescriptive management recommendations. Thus the group has focused on quantitative efforts that will establish a baseline to help monitor and track progress.
An important part of effective communications is having a message to communicate. Companies, non-government organizations (NGOs) and government agencies all want more scientific data to back up sustainability claims. So developing metrics that measure progress and give you achievements to report is key.
Keep it simple
Messaging consumers require a different approach as they are far less likely to delve deeply into scientific claims. One of the key points that were raised at the summit reviewed the need for both quantitative information alongside straightforward messaging for consumers. “While we need detailed and accurate scientific data to document measures of sustainability, we also need simple, clear and factual messages for dialogue with consumers,” summit participants concluded.
The messaging for consumers entails simple assurances rather than a litany of facts. Consumer confidence benefits from a succinct summary of current sustainable practices and a pithy encapsulation of progress toward future goals.
“A lot of time the communication for a sustainability story is trying to satisfy a very complex and diverse group of stakeholders, and that’s a hard thing to do,” PR CEO Lou Hoffman. To reach people we need to talk to their experience. Hence we need to tailor our communications to the specific audiences we are trying to reach. This means we need to communicate different messages containing different information depending on who we are addressing.
People need to be engaged and not just educated. Shared values can be a very effective point of entry for communicating sustainability messages. Shared value is something that Katherine Hayhoe knows a great deal about. She is a Texas Tech scientist who has become a leading voice in climate communications. As explained by Katherine Hayhoe, we can reach people if we are able to, “connect the line between what we care about and climate change.”
What Beef Producers Can Teach us About Communicating Sustainability
Corporations Need to Get Over their Fear of Reporting Failure
The Art of Effective Science-Based Climate Communications
Climate Communication Strategy to Bridge the Political Divide
Emotion is the Key to Communicating Sustainability and Climate Messaging
Sustainability Communications: Internal and External
Climate Change Communication Guide (ecoAmerica & CRED)
Marketing for Sustainability: Green Marketing Gets Real