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How to effectively communicate sustainability strategies and goals

In the age of mass and social media, people are bombarded with countless messages every day. All media platforms compete for people’s attention, and depending on the dominant narrative that these communication platforms communicate, people are influenced to think, feel, form opinions and values, and act according to this narrative.

The terms “information” and “communication” are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are different. Information is about presenting facts or opinions to someone else, while communication is about letting the receiver of the information grasp the intended meaning of the message.

Effective communication is as much about listening, storytelling, emotion, empathy, and belonging, as it is about technical information, facts, and transparency. Effective communication either changes minds, changes hearts, or changes context.

-Changing minds:

This involves influencing what people consciously think about, and assumes that when people make decisions, they bring together information from various sources and act in their own best interest.

-Changing hearts:

This involves changing underlying beliefs and motives, which influence thoughts and actions.

-Changing the context in which decisions are made:

This shifts the attention away from facts and information, towards the decision-making context, and recognises that people often act irrationally or inconsistently, because they are influenced by outside factors.

Rather than relying on guilt (Successful brands are all about consuming and selling and promising and aspiring, so they never make things about sacrifice...which is where a lot of behaviour change campaigns have gone wrong in the past) to motivate behavioural change, many businesses are seeking to create inspirational, aspirational, and fun messaging to influence behavioural change.

Many organisations also engage in cause marketing, which often involves joint funding and marketing for a social or environmental benefit, or economic development. Cause marketing usually refers to a partnership between a for-profit and not-for-profit organisation for mutual benefit.

When it comes to communicating a message successfully, the purpose, the audience, and how it is communicated are crucial. Communication is not only about sharing information, or teaching, but also about ensuring the recipient learns, absorbs the message at an emotional level, and responds in a productive way. For example, the person communicating the message has a powerful influence over how the message is received. Every audience respects different people and sources (from scientist or celebrity, to opinion-former or peer), which points to the importance of choosing a trustworthy, credible communicator.

When considering the topic of corporate communications, it is easy to delve immediately into the world of brand, marketing, and corporate storytelling.

Storytelling can drive strategic change in organisations, by creating an experience that lets strategy be understood at a personal level, and builds stronger teams and a sense of community.

For organisations to communicate the sustainability message to their respective target audiences (whether internal or external stakeholders), it is essential that they understand who they are targeting, and to tailor their messages and campaigns accordingly. Corporations have a number of tools at their disposal to communicate their sustainability initiatives to others, including stakeholder engagement, reporting, new media, eco-labelling, and branding and marketing.

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