“Sustainability is the capacity to improve the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of the Earth’s supporting eco-systems.”

(IUCN/UNEP/WWF)

Anyone trying to sell sustainability must overcome the same dilemma. How do I package this? Environmental sustainability is about preserving the natural resources and balance of our planet. The alternative is destroying Earth’s capacity to support life. These two sentences encapsulate the problem of marketing green practices. Do we focus on the positive, by inviting our clients to feel involved in the restoration of our environment? Or do we emphasise the negative, by stressing the ticking clock towards destruction?

of internet users worldwide have ditched products and services from a brand that violated their personal values. (Hotwire)

Ocean pollution

THE WORLD IS DYING – now what?

Our climate crisis is a difficult concept to wrap your head around. Your everyday activities, from driving to work to buying a pack of asparagus, are melting the ice caps in Antarctica. One is a result of the other; and yet your individual contribution to the problem is tiny. The daily news can make your head spin. All human life will end, and Earth will be a barren wasteland – probably. At an undetermined future date. Unless we do something now. If it’s not too late already.

It’s confusing, and when we’re confused, we get overwhelmed or apathetic. How are we supposed to feel about rinsing out our yoghurt containers for recycling, while big corporations poison rivers? As consumers, we get so much conflicting advice that it’s hard to decide who to trust. Nailing the messaging for sustainability can get complicated. That is why I’ve put together this guide: to remind marketers that simple is best. We need to focus on delivering a clear message. Without further ado – here are my six marketing rules to make sustainability sexy.

1. Don’t get bogged down in technical detail.

To be effective, your message has to be clear and concise. That doesn’t mean dumbing it down; it’s about only sharing the information that is required. You should always ask yourself: what does my client know already, and what information do they absolutely need from me at this point?

A great way to establish trust is to earn the right to use widely-recognised eco certificates from reputable organisations, like the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and the Carbon Trust Standard.

2. Sacrifice doesn’t sell.

The stakes may be high in the climate crisis, but general marketing principles still apply. In order to buy into a product, your clients want to feel comfortable with their choice. In that sense, it is a sale like any other, and persuasion is necessary. This isn’t to say that your messaging has to be exclusively positive.

Think of the tone of your campaign as a blank canvas. Restricting yourself by appealing to only one emotion is like only using only one colour paint. If we’re only relying solely on guilt to get our clients to act, that colour is black. Because of the vast scope of the environmental crisis, all human emotions are on the table. You can use your full palette: wonder, fear, hope, melancholy, yearning – whatever gets the message across.

3. Make the business case.

It’s all in the name: sustainability. In order to sustain our commercial practices, things need to change. That encompasses methods of production, legislation, transportation, supply chains – every aspect that matters to businesses. Without the right context, this can seem daunting.

In fact, it’s an opportunity. Businesses can make money by getting ahead of their competitors. Cornering the green market means getting a head start on the future. You’re doing the right thing, and it’s what consumers want.

Over 50% of consumers want to buy brands that are more sustainable.

(Unilever)

4. Trends are tools.

Concentrating your messaging around whichever sustainability issue that happens to be hot at the moment can feel cynical. Environmental sustainability is a complex endeavour. Banning single-use plastics alone, for instance, won’t solve the pollution of the oceans. Yet the reality is that, in marketing, sometimes you simply have to ride a wave. What is going to stick with after you’ve read this article? The statistics, or the image of the sea turtle trapped in a fishing net?

The trick is to leverage the transient objects of public interest to support your long-term strategy. In 2018, plastic was huge. In 2019, the Extinction Rebellion hit the big time. In 2020, the CO2 impact of commuting is a key talking point. If we want these movements to have a lasting legacy, we must integrate them into the wider sustainability debate.

In other words, there’s nothing wrong with piggybacking on a hashtag if it means bringing attention to a product, service, or company that is doing good work. Just make sure that what you are promoting is relevant and in line with the aims of the movement. Companies that callously tap into activism, without aligning themselves with the cause, risk facing a backlash.

 5. Mix up your mediums.

We’ve touched on the power of images. When dealing with a complex and abstract issue like sustainability, the written word can use a bit of help. Video, imagery, infographics and sound can bring the message to life. The same principle applies for many of the complex processes that sustainable businesses employ.

To give an example, at Creative Quills, we created a report for Re-board® Technology, the producer of a patented sustainable rigid paperboard. The messaging of the report was all around CO2 emissions, so the written content was very data-driven – which isn’t sexy. In order to convey the green credentials of our client’s product, we partnered with a designer to produce an infographic. Through imagery, we showed that every step of the product journey was designed for CO2 reduction. Allowing your reader to grasp processes at a glance can be very persuasive. So, before you put together a piece of content, think creatively about the best medium to convey your message.

6. Return to the source for inspiration.

When making the case for sustainability, you have one key advantage: people love the natural world. By drawing on the beauty of nature, you can make your point more persuasively. You can tie a campaign together invoking by the inherent sense of balance and wonder that we feel when we venture into the great outdoors. Tapping into powerful memories one of the best ways to persuade your audience. Just make sure that your aesthetic is backed up by using natural, recyclable materials where possible.

Sustainability as a guiding principle

When creating a sustainable brand, consistency is essential. That doesn’t just apply to the marketing: every aspect of the business needs to be considered from a green perspective. The most powerful messages come from brands that can demonstrate real commitment. Those organisations prioritise sustainability in all their business practices; from how they run their supply chains to how they treat their employees. Creating a brand like that takes hard work and perseverance, but the reward is an opportunity to create a lasting legacy.