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9 Reasons Your Sustainability Communications Fail

kueller, alexandra, strategic sustainability consultingSustainability leaders have to talk – a lot. Sometimes they speak at conferences, other times they speak to clients, or they might even write a guest article for a website. Regardless of the audience or platform, if you’re in sustainability, you have to communicate. But every so often communications can fail.

What happens when you do notice that you’re not getting your sustainability message across? Fast Company published an article that highlighted 9 different ways a leader’s communication might be stalling. We thought that the reasons mentioned in the article also work perfectly for sustainability communications.

1. Distrust versus Trust Have you ever found yourself talking to someone who is not 100% on board with sustainability, and you instantly go on the defensive? Instead of distrusting the person you’re talking to right off the bat, try trusting them. When you open up, communications can go a lot further.

2. Monologue versus Collaboration You’re speaking to a room full of people, and you find yourself talking non-stop. Take a moment and look at the crowd. How engaged are they? Do you see people doing head nods? It’s very easy to get carried away when speaking, because you want to get your point across, but collaboration goes a long way. Engage with the audience and see what happens!

3. Complexity versus Simplicity The sustainability field loves their acronyms. GHG. LCA. GRI. CDP. SASB. IIRC. The list goes on and on. While many people within sustainability might know what you’re talking about when mentioning these words, but you don’t always know who is in your audience. Simplicity is key; don’t get carried away with industry lingo.

4. Insensitivity versus Tact When talking about sustainability, the conversation can often mention climate change. Unfortunately, climate change is still a politically-charged topic, and people can get turned off when listening to someone speak about it. You don’t have to avoid the topic completely, but be smart and tactful about how you approach certain topics.

5. Achievement versus Potential You might have a handful of published reports under your belt and a countless number of speaking opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. You might think you know the best way to deliver a presentation, but listen and look to the people around. There is always room to grow and improve the way you communicate sustainability.

6. Dilution versus Distinction You find yourself trying to convince a client that it’s important to publish a sustainability report, and in order to prove your point, you keep going on and on with a variety of anecdotes and facts. Stop diluting your point and cut to the chase. If you keep dragging out your reason why, the client may lose interest! Clear through the clutter, and lay out the key facts.

7. Generalization versus Specificity It’s very easy when writing sustainability plans, reports, etc. to become very generic with your statements. “X company cares deeply about the environment.” “X company works very hard at recycling.” Instead of just spouting off platitudes, get specific. How has a company achieved their recycling goals? What sets a company apart from others when it comes to environmental care? Make your communications meaningful.

8. Logic versus Emotion There is a time for logic and a time for emotion when it comes to communication, but what happens when you don’t recognize the right place to use these two tactics? If you’re trying to motivate a crowd at a conference to get excited about sustainability, tap in on emotion, but if you’re speaking to a client about a potential project, use logic.

9. Distortion Versus Perspective The sustainability field is ever-changing, and no one can remain an expert forever. Don’t write an article acting like you know everything about sustainability, or don’t give a presentation where you come off as being better than everyone else. With new information and research always being published, sometimes you should take a back seat and learn from your peers. After all, no one likes listening to a know-it-all.

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4 thoughts on “9 Reasons Your Sustainability Communications Fail

  1. Personally I think a big part of the problem is too much attention to talk rather than action. If sustainability leaders are spending their time and efforts focused on actions and demonstrating business value, then the communications and conversations become much simpler and easier. In other words, action first talk later.

  2. Thanks for the post, Alexandra. This is an excellent 9-point checklist of opposites to resolve and harmonize for all communication processes and all interpersonal communication – to be aware of at the beginning and remind oneself throughout the process.

  3. Such a wonder article and a must read for all. There’s been a few times where I’ve found myself in those awkward situations of dealing with a “sustainability consultant” or just and advocate. I’m thinking now they should probably read this article and use this as their platform. For me someone who is now gaining an interest in this conversation, it was perfect for me. I totally look forward to reading more of Ali’s works.

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