Sustainability needs some micromanagement

Sustainability needs some micromanagement

We often encounter clients whose definition of sustainability is a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s an easy trap to fall into, since sustainability is still an evolving and emerging issue. But when it comes to taking more sustainable actions, we need to be micromanagers.

Sustainability is one of those ideas that’s really hard to wrap your head around. It literally means hundreds – maybe thousands – of things. If you’re just telling your employees or your customers or your consumers (or maybe you’re being told by your customers) “Be more sustainable,” chances are they’re left scratching their heads. Does that mean recycle more? Yes. Does that mean buy less? Maybe. Does that mean examining my supply chain? Yes. There’s no one clear place to start and there are no clear directions for getting there.

Social psychologists know that people facing change get paralyzed by the options, and that prescriptive solutions are needed. And maybe this is where sustainability marketers find ourselves today – we’ve raised awareness to the point that sustainability is largely a mainstream idea, and now we need to move people more toward specific actions. But we have to be able to tell them what to do, in bite-sized chunks, so that they see that being “green” isn’t all that hard in most cases.

One of the best examples I’ve seen so far is David Gershon’s Green Living Handbook. Gershon, a community organizer and self-described social architect, started EcoTeams in several cities around the country and developed this workbook to help members start living a more sustainable lifestyle. (Read more about EcoTeams here.)

The handbook is divided into six sections: garbage, water conservation, energy efficiency, transportation, eco-wise consuming and empowering others. Each section contains more than a dozen one-page how-to guides and an action log to keep participants accountable. For instance, in the garbage section, there’s a one-pager on composting (which we know from our research that many Americans are interested in but don’t know how to get started). There’s a brief paragraph explaining why people should compost, followed by a highly detailed checklist outlining how to build a compost area in your own garden. It lists materials and time commitments as well as the potential resource savings. With its concise, easy-to-understand directions, composting starts to look really easy! It doesn’t feel like micromanagement, it feels like welcomed and needed information.

As savvy sustainability marketers, we should keep this lesson in mind. Advertisements and communications materials can no longer simply exclaim “Go green!” – we must start providing instructions, details and how-to guides that make sustainable actions seem easy to accomplish. Only then will we be creating a more sustainable future.

About the Author

Karen Barnes

Karen is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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