Communicating is difficult in a hectic, divided world. The public space for discussion and knowledge sharing is challenging. Opinions — and even facts — seem polarized. Information is scattered and incomplete, coming in Tweets, texts, and memes.
Can complex issues around business and sustainability find an audience?
Sustainability is something we think is important and we have people writing to us about it. Sadly, the articles often don’t perform very well. Sustainability writers know it is important to people around the world who are the audience they are trying to reach.
First, there is a need to consider what people care about most. There are sets of concerns that are top of mind in our culture that need focus. Inequality, for instance, has taken to the headlines of top stories and unless we change that, addressing sustainability will be a day-time dream. Inequality is a bigger problem than climate change. We are rarely going to fix climate change if we do not deal with inequality issues that are affecting governments around the world. There is a lot of different competing things. Sometimes, one will enable the other – or will disenable it.
Better communication can draw attention
We are always thinking about how do you take something important and make it as interesting as it should be. Whenever I hear sustainability stories, it sounds like a lot of kale to me and not enough smoothie. I think ways to get a little bit of kale in the smoothie can be helpful. I also don’t hear enough people. People are interested in people. We love to watch people work. If somebody takes action or young people in an organization change something, there is just that natural narrative that people would be interested in.
Communicating is not about imparting knowledge like people are in school. It is about really engaging with storytelling, with a strong narrative that connects these things to their lives and shows that it matters.
Look beyond the partisan nature of some of these issues. If people hear “climate change,” that kind of turns them off. But there is great demand for learning about the research that everybody in this room is doing and how it relates to lives, how it can help them understand this complicated marketplace of products; what is sustainable, what is not, what is free-range, cage-free, what is the difference, what is actually good for the environment, is there a sustainable smartphone out there…
If you frame the debate as regulation versus saving the planet, for a lot of people, the desire for less regulation will win. If it is taking away their SUVs, they are not going to go for it. If you write an article about it, you have a chance to reframe what it is about, going into why it matters and trying to get through the back door of these political conversations.
Figure out what that simple narrative is. Climate change, it seems so hard. But everybody understands a budget. Managing climate change is just an energy budget. If you can find simple models, it helps people to understand things better.
Identify the role you want to play
Should I worry about offending people? This depends on your purpose. There is room for activists and there is room for conciliators in any debate. But to connect effectively…you need to change the mind of the reader. One needs to push the needle a little bit. To do so, you have to find a way to take a step back and say, “Where can I create that common ground and just present the evidence?