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Time to change the way we talk about Sustainability, again

Sustainable practices often mean no more business-as-usual. Emerging environmental requirements and economic demands gradually work their way into strategies, planning and new product development – and the need to translate these into practical information usually falls to the communications team. At globotext, our work translating and adapting sustainability releases and other communiqués reveals some important shortcomings in the way this information is prepared and delivered. And we’re not alone. Many of the same shortcomings are now being seen and actively discussed by the Climate Investigation Center (CIC), its Executive Director Kert Davies, and many others who keep tabs on companies who are delaying the implementation of sound energy and environmental practices.

Getting it right isn’t always easy.

124873301_940pxThe tasks facing the sustainability communications team require grasping the interconnectedness of business strategies and initiatives – and delivering them to audiences and communities with a clear end game in mind. Beyond mere word translation or creative rebranding – a popular trend that often focuses on eye-catching veneer rather than substantive change – it’s about understanding concepts and committing to transformation. Then conveying these convincingly and in a user-friendly fashion to each person from whom buy-in is needed. Working on a micro level with a macro perspective takes a lot more effort than simply adopting a sexy re-branding. As transparency improves and reporting focus sharpens, many companies’ grand plans are increasingly being dissected to figure out what’s really being done – if anything. By way of example, Executive Editor Jo Confino of The Guardian takes issue with Sir Richard Branson’s ‘B Team’ social and environmental change initiative. His conclusion: lots of talk, and not so much action. Changes usually come slowly unless imposed by crises, of which there is no shortage. The changes that took us further and further away from sensible sustainability practices have gained traction to the point where, today, many people believe that things their ancestors never dreamed of can’t be lived without. It’s truly become a consumption-driven world.

Thought – and communication – leaders wanted.

Effective thought leadership thrives on innovative alternatives and inclusivity. Acknowledging more variables, having greater respect for differences, being willing to sacrifice for the short term to bring about long-term benefits –  these are the ingredients that spark and foster real change. Now, to marry them to messages that will help create new behaviors. We communications professionals have not always been tasked with delivering messages that lead to fundamental, measureable change. But it’s essential today. Our audience is overloaded by noise, hyperbole, self-interested rhetoric. It’s no surprise that the canned corporate message is being overtaken by social media’s subversive effectiveness. Real people are speaking to real people about issues they share.

Signs of solidarity and progress.

136157601_940pxIn the PR arena, the wagons are indeed being circled. We noticed The Guardian recent article on 25 global PR firms that are refusing to work with clients who deny climate change. This action from top firms Weber Shandwick, Finn Partners, WPP, Waggerner Edstrom and 21 others is being watched closely by sustainability communications watchdogs like CIC, The European Environment Agency (EEA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and many others who hope to see corporate rhetoric translate into tangible deliverables. The Guardian’s article, written by Suzanne Goldenberg and Nishad Karim, quotes Waggener Edstrom’s Rhian Rotz: “We would not knowingly partner with a client who denies the existence of climate change.” Adds Michelle Selesky of Weber Shandwick: “There may be scenarios in which we could represent a client that has different views on climate change, just not on this issue.” UK-based WPP, the world’s largest advertising firm by revenue and parent company of Burson Marsteller and Oglivy Public Relations, added that taking on a client or campaign disputing climate change would violate their company guidelines. At globotext, while we still see only a gradual commitment to tackling climate challenges in many of the communiqués we handle daily, we view all movement in the right direction with encouragement.

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