Environmental and sustainability awareness has been around in the society for quite some time now; and buzzwords like ‘ecofriendly’, ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ seem to be omnipresent. In spite of the proliferation of these eco-buzzwords, the state of sustainability communications remains poor and lacking in authenticity. This poor state of sustainable communication, aided by insufficient focus on authenticity, further allows unscrupulous organizations to ‘green wash’ their business or products. The ‘greenwashing’, coupled with a lack of environmental knowledge on the consumer side engenders confused consumers who either despise any of the green eco-buzzwords or blindly accept green-washing as true sustainability.
Currently, sustainability initiatives, be it local government or international, do not reach the common man. People are still under impression that a few cursory steps towards ecofriendly lifestyle are enough. All in all sustainability is not yet properly understood in society. Most people wish to be more environmentally friendly but don’t know how. This is where sustainable communication can help.
Sustainability Communication for Businesses
There are two key elements to business sustainability communications:
- Real Sustainability Efforts
- Plentiful Sustainability Communication (external as well as internal).
Both of these elements are necessary. Without the former it’s a misleading greenwash, while without the latter, it’s a pocket of concentrated sustainability effort which will wither and die if the department handling this effort is disassembled.
For sustainability communications to work for businesses in the Middle East, there has to be real sustainability commitment and efforts from the business to make their product and services more sustainable. In this day and age of the internet, transparency and traceability about products and services are indispensable features which can prove the authenticity of the commitment of a business to sustainability goals.
There has to be external as well as internal sustainability communication for any organization which is taking efforts towards sustainability. The employees should get to know better about practicing sustainability policies or actions planned and implemented by that business. The employees can also act as sustainability advocates of that organizations. In addition to having budget for CSR, organizations need to keep some time or fund aside for internal sustainability communication. In the long run these efforts can help organizations to stand out in the market.
Sustainable Communication in Media
If you open any newspaper or publication you are able to find some articles or information on the topic but most show a lack of clarity, and many appear to be written just as a formality. As an industry insider I can even reveal that most of the related news are mostly copy paste of original press releases sent by respective organizations. But if you look at other topics like lifestyle, fashion, those are well talked about, researched by in almost every publication.
Unfortunately we still don’t have enough qualified and expert sustainability journalists and writers in the region who actually understand what they are writing about. If you take example of Europe or Americas, they have many expert sustainability writers who write for main stream media and make sure the right information is reaching the society.
In general media in Middle East, though it’s newspaper or radio/TV channels need to give more attention to invest in qualified sustainability writers to acquire integrity and quality of sustainable communication.
Another issue of sustainable communication is it can take the form of an apocalyptic discussion, if you talk about environmental impact. People lose interest in such discussions quickly. Actually the statistic shows people in Middle East spend more time on internet than people from most other parts of world. But we need to accept that they prefer to have some light reading. We also need to create sustainability dialogue relevant to life of our readers and provide useful information for daily routine.
Instead of just talking about what is good and what is not, we need to show examples of doing good for environment, choosing sustainable options. So this takes me to my last point of sustainable communication, do what you preach. If we want our readers not just read but make changes in their lives; first we need to show how sustainable we practitioners are living. This will not only make sustainability relatable but also doable.
Demographics of Sustainability Communications
One important observation I have made, and many people in the field will agree, is that sustainability topic is well received by younger generation or millennials. These young people are pushing their parents and families to opt for more sustainable choices.
I would like to share one such personal experience. One of my readers contacted me and told her child insists on taking reusable bags with them all the time. Apart from how proud I felt about my reader and of course, her child, I was glad to know that the push of sustainable action is coming from young people.
During my eco-talks in schools, I always get positively surprised by how much these young kids know about environment and sustainability as compared to their adult counterparts. So we need to focus and include these young people in sustainable communication.
Consumer-Initiated Sustainable Communication
In this big market of consumers, we have almost no sustainable communication at consumer end. No surprise the region is facing larger issues like waste, waste recycling, and one of the highest rates of plastic consumption. We still lack sustainable communication initiated by consumers. What is needed in this region is a responsible consumer feedback.
Take the example of mending and renting services. The general shortage of mending and renting services a big indication of how the region has morphed itself a consumer’s paradise. This makes it critically difficult to create green consumerism as, market price, and availability in the market currently affects consumers much more than what the consumers really want.
However several consumers (more than we can perceive) would like to go back to the good old days when one really owned something, they used it for several years, got it mended over and over, and kept using it. It’s even better if the same brands are providing these mending and repair services of their own products in the region.
So if we could involve consumers in sustainability communication and dialogue, businesses can get feedback on what is truly missing, which will surely help them to make their business more sustainable.
Preaching what good you practice is not necessarily pompous if it is going to help the society be more sustainable. However at the core of any sustainable communication is a real effort in being sustainable, be it sustainability in energy, water, waste, or social. The golden rule is, there is no knowledge without feedback of your actions, so when you communicate your sustainability efforts, be open for any feedback and criticism. This way we can create a positive loop of real sustainability actions, active and transparent communications, feedback and improvement, and better, more effective sustainability actions.
About the Author
Amruta Kshemkalyani, is an experienced sustainability professional and top sustainability influencer/advocate in UAE. While working in sustainable development field, she is also spreading environmental and sustainable living awareness in UAE through her blog www.sustainabilitytribe.com since 2009.