7 lessons sustainability professionals wish they’d known sooner on their journey
In our work, we talk to a lot of sustainability professionals across many industries. We’ve learned that this is an amazing group of people. They’re brilliant, they’re passionate, and they’re working their tails off at an often thankless task: executing the nebulous concept of “sustainability” which varies wildly between companies and sectors.
We recently sent out a short survey to our newsletter readers to ask established sustainability pros what they wish they had known sooner. If you participated, thank you! From this group’s wealth of knowledge and experience (we’ve quoted some of their responses below), we’ve distilled some key lessons that can help other sustainability professionals along their own journeys.
“It’s a process, not a destination. Sustainability is a state of being where you’re balancing your personal values, budget, and evolving research findings and products.”
“I wish I had known how important persistence can be. I don’t think it’s enough to communicate a message once; it needs to be told over and over.”
“Craft your message to lead, not admonish, people into following.”
“Stories are powerful. Learn to tell stories to connect.”
Lesson #3: Understand what motivates different stakeholders and make connections based on that.
“The more your subs understand why you really need that specific piece of documentation, the easier it will be for them to provide you with the right documentation the first time around. There is never too much training that can occur for subcontractors in regard to sustainability.”
“People are more likely to make substantial investments that benefit them for the long term if there is an immediate emotional benefit they can identify with.”
Lesson #4: Be prepared for the fact that you won’t always have the answers you need …
“A lot of information simply wasn’t available or known then. Climate change wasn’t an issue. Neither was energy conservation or renewable energy.”
Lesson #5: … but you can’t let that stop you from acting with urgency.
“Having followed [sustainability leaders/visionaries] Buckminster Fuller, Amory Lovins and Edward Abbey, I wish that I had pushed more then to convince everyone that they were right about climate change, the greenhouse effect and how unsustainable our culture is. The World Watch Institute had it nailed in the 60’s and we just whistled past the graveyard.”
None of our professionals regretted having made some mistakes, but some of them regretted not acting sooner, regardless of whether their approach was perfect. There’s an urgency here, and you can’t wait for someone else to figure it out. As one of the professionals we surveyed so succinctly put it, “Do it sooner rather than later.”
Lesson #6: Be practical and understand the role of ROI.
“Show me the money … start with a focus on efficiency and reducing long-term operating expenses. Everything else is just potential upside.”
We know this, you know this, everyone knows this. Without the business case, you don’t have a case. The good news is, as sustainability’s definition evolves, more and more cost benefits are being recognized as results of sustainability. There are plenty of ROI links you can make that will resonate with your specific audiences.
Lesson #7: Learn as much as you can about your consumers and customers.
“I wish I knew how challenging it would be to influence people’s thinking regarding the benefits of highly energy-efficient homes. I wish I knew more about marketing and how to influence people’s behavior.”
The better you understand your customers and consumers, the more effectively you’ll be able to communicate with them about sustainability and how it can benefit them. At Shelton Group, we see the consumer mindset about sustainability evolving quite rapidly right now. It’s important that we all keep our finger on the pulse of that so we don’t mis-message or assume the barrier we need to overcome to get them motivated is X when really it’s Y.
Do you need to learn more about what your customers and stakeholders expect from you when it comes to sustainability? Do you have a grasp on that, but you’re having trouble connecting with the right messages? Have your sustainability communications so far felt like they’ve missed the mark and you need an honest, outside opinion from sustainability marketers? Definitely avail yourself of our free insight reports and, if you’d like a sounding board or even some concrete counsel, give us a shout.
In the meantime, consider yourself invited to the webinar we’re co-hosting with Environmental Defense Fund next Thursday. Mark your calendars! We’ll be presenting insights from interviews we recently conducted with sustainability professionals specifically concerning the resources and tools they’ve found especially helpful as they green up their corporate supply chains.