EnvironmentSustainable DevelopmentSusty Business

Communicating Sustainability

3 simple ways you can get your green message out there.

sustainabilityCourtsey: Burson Marstelle

The word Sustainability seems to be on everyone’s agenda nowadays, which is a good development.

In fact, it has gotten to a point that some businesses feel they won’t make sales or turnover if they don’t ‘greenwash’ their product or service line with the word ‘sustainability’ at the center of their marketing process.

Some of us agree that merely having a logo or a statement depicting ‘Good for the environment’, ‘Highly organic’ or ‘Recyclable’ attached to a product; indicating that the products are environmentally friendly or contribute to the attainment of a circular economy, will not alter the buying decisions of informed customers.

Sustainability communication came up as a topic of discussion in one of the SustyVibes’ hangouts which I attended; the conversation went on for over thirty minutes as I studied how the attendees passionately discussed how most companies (especially startups in Nigeria) have totally ruined what sustainability entails. I can guaranty you that most startups in Nigeria don’t even understand what sustainability or sustainable practices means; let alone how to integrate it into their corporate structure. No wonder most of them find it very difficult to maintain their A game for a long time.

It may be surprising, but some businesses are actually doing things the right way.  However, find it difficult to sell themselves in a more greenish way. We can’t also rule out the fact that some of them might just be ignorant of what sustainability means – even though they are practicing it at some level.

When the words ‘sustainability communication’  first sparked my imagination, I had to carry out some research so as not to write out of context. In doing this, I came across various terminologies which at first sight, shared some relationship with this subject matter. However, they failed to convey the message which I intended to pass across  ̶  at least in a broader way.

The two that got my attention seem to have something in common which each other ―with meaning that hovers around the sale of environmentally friendly products and services or let’s say Earth-friendly products or services. The terminologies  I came across were: Green Marketing and Societal Marketing.

Sustainability Communication.
Courtesy: eticambiente.com. Oct 2012

Now let’s jump right into what we are here for, which is how you can be best positioned to communicate sustainability at a corporate level. All in just three  simple steps:

  1. Redefine and personalize the concept Sustainability: Think deep and define what sustainability means to your company.  It is not a must that you have to use the word sustainability in your marketing process before you can convey the socio-environmental benefits of your product or service. It is even advisable for industries to personalize or OWN sustainability by giving it an industry-specific meaning and term in which when conveyed, can lead to greater engagement of your product or services.  This should be a name or term that your consumers can easily understand. It will be counter-intuitive if your customers have to turn to Google just to check the meaning of everything you are trying to say. Trust me when you drive sustainability home seamlessly to the heart of your prospective customer, this will yield more sales results. In some industries, sustainability has been related to the following words; viable, renewable, profitable, regenerative, etc.
  2. Transparency: If you really want to stay ahead of the competition, you have to do more when it comes to being transparent. There are a lot of products out there that pose as ‘green products’ but still fall below sustainability standards. You can take advantage of that shortfall in your industry and communicate how transparent your processes are, and how you constantly seek innovative ideas on how to mitigate the negative effects of your production processes, to people and planet. Heineken and Guinness are already doing this. I saw an ad by Heineken a few days ago requesting individuals or corporate bodies with innovative ideas to come forward and partner with them to reduce their carbon footprint. Most startups don’t think in this direction at all.
  3. Outsource or Build In-house Sustainability Team: Yes I know that we are very busy trying to build a world-class product or service and probably don’t have time to factor the act of sustainability into our process. If that is your case, don’t worry, there are a lot of firms and social enterprises out there who are very experienced in the act of sustainability communication or reporting. For a fee, they can revamp your whole communication process in a matter of days or weeks. Susty Vibes has been doing very well in this regard and you can contact them for a quick turnaround in your susty communication strategy. If you have more resources at your disposal, you can set up an in-house sustainability unit who will be saddled with the responsibility of driving your business towards the path of sustainability.

To gain the full perks that come with sustainability communication, business owners need to craft out bespoke marketing strategies that effectively communicate in a parallel fashion; sustainability and the product’s value proposition. Companies should know when and how to effectively communicate sustainability/product value proposition. For example, you have a firm that’s in the business of selling pills for aches. You should know how to convey the actual value the pill/medicine is meant to deliver (a cure for aches or body pains), and when to bring in sustainability (What kind of material the pill made from, how natural is it, etc.). This is a rare approach to sustainability communication and I am happy that you’ve been put in the loop.

Did I miss anything or do you have a specific style of communicating sustainability aside from what is listed in this post? Feel free to place your points in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading!


Eric Anidiobi
Anidiobi Ejiofor Eric holds a degree in Project Management. He is passionate about leveraging sustainability in ensuring that a project reflects the triple bottom line. He generally writes at the crossroad of Sustainability in Project Management, Startups, Business Strategy, and Education.