10 Top Tips for Communicating About Sustainability
This week I was talking to the CEO of a global destination management company, and he said, “The worst thing would be to be tell people what we are doing about sustainability and then have a journalist write an article pointing out all the things we aren’t getting right.”
This CEO isn’t alone in his fear. Over the years, I have seen many fantastic examples of sustainability in action that are not being spoken about out of fear of saying the wrong thing, in the wrong way, to the wrong person. But it is only through sharing your sustainability actions that others in the event industry will be inspired to improve their social, economic, and environmental impacts.
Think about these 10 tips when you consider sharing your sustainability journey:
1. Sustainability is good business. It means making decisions that are good for the environment, the community, and for the business’s bottom line. When you talk about your sustainability initiatives, don’t forget to talk about the positive impact they have in these areas.
2. Sustainability is different for everyone. The sustainability actions of a global sporting event in Brazil will vary dramatically compared to a business conference in Copenhagen because of the location, event size, local climate, local infrastructure, and attendee behavior. Be brave and tell your own story. Don’t try to copy what someone else is saying.
3. Start telling your story in places you know people will be receptive. Every year Positive Impact leads #CSRshareDay, an online 24-hour Twitter campaign for best-practice sharing. In 2016, we reached over 1.2 million people, and the event was a celebration of people taking action to create a sustainable event industry. It is easy to start thinking that the actions you are taking won’t make a difference, but when you share with a community, you start to understand the impact that lots of individual actions around the world can have.
4. Be visual. Use photographs or data charts to demonstrate your actions and impact. People often hear the word “sustainability” and think it’s too academic—so bring it to life through pictures.
5. Don’t be scared that people (including media) may point out things that you are not doing right. Nobody is perfect but its better to be imperfect and trying to make a positive difference than not to try at all. A great example of this is the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio. For months leading up to the games the global media reported on the bad state of Rio’s waterways, the negative social impact of favellas being moved, and the high crime rates. During the opening ceremony, Rio focused on climate change. Organizers understood that when the eyes of the world are watching, the content of an event has to be relevant for everyone and there is nothing more relevant than the state of our planet.
6. Give as much detail as you can, even if the detail seems irrelevant. Sharing information like “we wanted to recycle our signage into bags for use post-event, but the signage fabric was not suitable” will enable others to learn from your experience.
7. Be brave and share the details you would usually hide! It’s the things that don’t work that we learn the most from. Anyone implementing a strategy for sustainability will know that things don’t always go as planned, so anyone who has just good news to share may face questions about why they aren’t stretching themselves further!
8. Avoid using the word green and sustainability in the same sentence. Green refers to the environment. Sustainability refers to the environment and society and economics. So saying green is only a third of the issue.
9. Don’t underestimate the difference you can make by communicating. Recently, one of our interns told us that she had got a great mark on her final exam because she had used three Positive Impact case studies to help her prove the economic value of a sustainable event. When those case studies were created, supporting students was not our aim, but it's a simple example of the kind of broad influence communicating about your sustainability efforts can have.
10. Sustainability is a journey with no end point. Well, not quite, the end point would be a human race interacting in a way that benefited each other. It is not likely that your sustainability journey is going to achieve that ultimate goal so there are terms you want to use carefully—and these are the very words everyone likes to use in their press releases! Anytime you use the words “first,” “best,” “most,” or “biggest” think about the context. Is it true? What does it actually mean? People who understand sustainability will be looking for evidence on how you are integrating sustainability into the way you do business rather than just taking action to be the “first,” “biggest,” or “best.”