A hefty pill: 3 tips to make communication about sustainability manageable
By: Mirjam van Elst
Sustainability, hidden impact, all the transitions we are in now; it's not exactly light fare. Some days it feels so overwhelming that I want to crawl under my duvet with a big bag of chips. And I'm not the only one.
These are big questions. There's so much that needs to be done. How are we going to do that? How do we get everyone on board and how do we communicate about it? Because of course we know that we have to go. That 'everything' has to change. But how do you tell that to the different target groups? The people who want to, but find it all rather frightening. And the people waiting for more information. Or the people who don't want it at all. So how are we going to do that?
3 ways to tell your story
According to Babette Porcelijn, author of 'Het Happy 2050 Scenario' (affiliate), there are 3 stories we can tell. But first: what is the Happy 2050 Scenario?
Simply put, Happy 2050 is a healthy, happy world. For everyone. So in 2050. We still have a lot of work to do to get that done. And we need to convey that story. We must tell what we are already doing and what still needs to be done. A great task for anyone involved in sustainability and communication.
Here are the stories we can tell: :
1-Planet first. The carrying capacity of the earth is decisive. For us Dutch people, this means that we have to reduce our impact from 3 earths to 1. Our economy can therefore no longer grow, it may even have to shrink. This story will meet with a lot of resistance.
2-The whole story. Showing the whole economy, including the hidden economy. Charge all loss items and what that costs us. Showing how things can be done differently and what that will bring us. This story will probably be better received than Planet first.
3-The Happy 2050 Scenario. Telling the "why". What are we doing it all for? A long and happy life. Based on a safe and healthy world. In the 'Happy 2050 Scenario' the opportunities and that beautiful world are told. What's not to like?
1. Planet first: a tough job
Planet first's story is about less. Consume less, produce less, eat less. In order to reduce our impact on the earth to an acceptable level. In the Netherlands we consume and produce so much that we need 3 earths. In other countries it is different. There are countries where the impact is much lower. So we have to do more than others. For many people this feels unfair and therefore not desirable. In short: not an easy message to convey.
2. The Whole Story: Showing the Hidden Impact
At the moment we look at the world from an economic perspective. But this look is not complete. Western countries have moved much of their industry and agriculture to low-wage countries with less stringent environmental legislation. That production there has a major impact on climate, nature and the environment. The products are then imported, but the manufacturing impact is disregarded. About 80% of the impact is hidden. As a result, our view of everything that has to do with sustainability is incomplete. Not convenient.
When you show that hidden impact, you show a more complete picture. An image that is more negative than what we see at the moment. But would even more numbers tell the story better? Let's face it, most of us don't get into spreadsheets and numbers.
3. The Happy 2050 Scenario: the best way to communicate
How do you manage to get people involved in the Happy 2050 Scenario? Those challenges we face can feel quite overwhelming, making it seem easier to ignore all the seriousness and doom. Because how much trouble do we have in our frog country? When it gets warmer, we just hang an air conditioner on our house. Problem solved.
With The Happy 2050 Scenario, all world citizens can lead a good and healthy life in 2050. In a place where life is good. So everywhere. We have to do something for that. But if we keep seeing that point on that horizon, it can be done. So that's the message we need to bring. If we put our shoulders together, it's possible. And we, communication people, have to keep talking about it. In a positive, constructive way. Talk about solutions, not problems.
We only need 5% to reach the tipping point
You need 25% of the population to overturn a system definitively and irreversibly. So says Jan Rotmans, professor of transition studies. According to him, it takes quite a long time to reach that 25%, but if you've managed to do that, the remaining 75% will go by pretty quickly. Because the transition then accelerates. Rotmans estimates that about 20% of the Dutch people strive for a sustainable lifestyle. So let's get started.
Strength, in other words: how are we going to approach this now?
'The Happy 2050 Scenario' ends with 'clout'. The strength that we have as a crew. The actions we can take to achieve that scenario, a happy and healthy world in 2050. So that we, all of us, can pull the current system smoothly like a large fleet of sailing boats. We don't have to wait for other parties, such as the government and large industries. We can get started ourselves. Among other things with Porcelijn's rules of life.
Porcelijn's rules of life
The rules of thumb are rules of thumb for the crew, i.e. for us, to achieve that 'Happy 2050 Scenario'. These are the rules of life formulated by Porcelijn:
Happiness – Go for a dignified, valuable life for yourself and others.
Well-being – Provide a safe base, live healthy, work together, maintain contacts, go for your bliss and keep learning.
Equal Opportunity – Buy slave free, fair trade and fair chain, empower the underprivileged, be honest and resist corruption, do not use drugs.
Economy – Use your money for a happy 2050, pay taxes, pay the real price, don't go into debt, put your money in a happy 2050 proof financial institution.
Natural resources – Consume within means: focus on decluttering, plant-based eating, clean transport and a smaller sustainable home; do with less and avoid waste.
Policy – Choose! Vote for a happy 2050 proof party, or become active yourself for a happy 2050 policy.
The crew – Use your clout and help build a happy 2050, inspire others, live it, be curious and enjoy it.
Safe planet – Commit to a living planet, prevent damage to the environment, climate and nature, create greenery, plant many trees, protect nature.
And what I want to add to that: talk about it. Talk about everything you do. Share your story. And that of your organization.
Communication about sustainability: a must
Porcelijn managed to bring my drive back. With 'The Happy 2050 Scenario' she cranks up my fire again. Nothing with a bag of chips under my duvet, but out into the world and making a difference. We only need a few others before the tipping point comes. I'm excited.
How can you do more with sustainability in your work? And how can you show the impact you already have to those around you? This is possible with good marketing and communication. As a communication professional, you can already start using this in your work and organization.
Start influencing and changing behaviour
Changing behavior does not happen overnight. It's about systematically understanding how people think and make decisions and using that as a starting point for coming up with ideas that lead to behavioral change (in this case, making more sustainable choices). Learn more about it during a handy training.