Built-in Behaviour Change & Better Communication for Sustainability
How to produce sustainable behaviour? Brands could build in behaviour change so there is no choice but to use a product in a lower impact way. Innovations that push people towards sustainable living without preaching can range from large-scale infrastructure such as cycle hire schemes, to hair-cleaning products. What about social media’s role? The new SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index identified at least 250 major corporates that are engaged in some form of social media sustainability communications. Read More
Why behaviour change is at the heart of sustainable business
Brands must find ways to be innovative in order to push people towards sustainable living without preaching to them
Sylvia Rowley for the Guardian Professional Network (23 January 2012):
Removing bins to force staff to use recycling points is a small change that may have a big impact on a firm’s sustainability goals.
Research shows that changing people’s habits through sheer force of persuasion is hard, especially if their surroundings stay the same.
Marketing campaigns can try to encourage people to live more sustainably, but “it’s entirely in the hands of the consumer whether they do or not”, says Lucy Shea, CEO of sustainable communications agency Futerra. “It rests entirely on the efficacy of that campaign, and often behaviour change doesn’t result.”
An alternative is for brands to “build in behaviour change so there is no choice but to use a product in a lower impact way”, says Shea. Innovations that push people towards sustainable living without preaching can range from large-scale infrastructure such as cycle hire schemes, to hair-cleaning products.
“Dry shampoo is one of my favourite examples. It was never made to be environmental, it was made basically for ease” says Shea. “But the result of being able to spray your hair between washes, and therefore wash it less, is actually the same as all of these worthy environmental campaigns asking you to spend less time in the shower.”
Smart technology has great potential for designing sustainability into everyday life. Parcel carrier UPS, for example, has programmed its truck drivers’ navigation systems to minimise the amount of fuel they use for each journey. On American roads, turning left at a junction leads to higher fuel consumption because drivers have to wait to cross an extra lane of traffic before they can turn. By programming their drivers’ route maps to avoid left turns, UPS makes sure they drive more efficiently.
Smart thermostats in homes go further still, not just guiding consumers but acting sustainably on their behalf. The “learning thermostat” designed by the former head of iPods at Apple, for example, can sense whether anyone is at home, or what the weather is like, and adjust the house’s temperature accordingly. According to the BBC, its makers claim it can cut household heating bills by 20-30%.
Jon Fletcher, sustainable behaviours lead at accountancy firm PWC, says that the buildings we inhabit can mould our actions in many ways. When PWC moved into a new office in the spring of 2011 the company tried to embed sustainable living into the fabric of the site.
This included making sure the new location had good public transport links (they chose London Bridge), minimising car parking to five or six spaces, offering about 250 bike stands, building “far more” video conferencing units than in previous buildings, removing personal bins to force people to use the recycling bins on each floor, setting all printers to print double-sided and even programming lifts so that staff choose their floor before getting into the lift, and people who are going to the same floor are sent to the same lift.
“People have responded positively to the whole building,” Fletcher says. “The changes might sound small and simple but they can have quite a significant impact.” Paper usage went down by 15% in 2010, for example.
But nudging staff and consumers towards sustainable living is not enough on its own, Fletcher warns. “Changing defaults and decision-making structures so that people behave differently is hugely important. But it’s also important for us to talk to them about sustainability.” Bike racks might be a prerequisite and a prompt for cycling to work, for example, but without well-designed communications to encourage and equip people to get on their bikes, takeup would be lower.
Fletcher believes that big changes will only come about through a mixture of built-in behaviour change and communication. “We’ll never make a big impact unless we can get culture change as well, and in order to do that you have to be part of the conversation with people.”
Sylvia Rowley is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes about the environment and social issues. She is also a part-time policy adviser at the thinktank Green Alliance, where she edits a blog on green living.
Matthew Yeomans for the Guardian Professional Network (24 January 2012) says:
Communicating sustainability via social media has become mainstream.
• More companies are using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs to talk about sustainability than ever before
• Social Media Sustainability Index puts GE, IBM, Sony and Levi in the top ten
Companies are increasingly making use of social media to facilitate discussion about sustainability.
Back at the end of 2010 we published the first ever review of how major companies were using social media to communicate sustainability. The reason for our research was fairly straightforward: social media had been fully embraced by the marketing, PR and internal communication profession. At the same time every company was looking to show its commitment to full sustainability or at least to corporate and social responsibility programs. How we wondered, were the two strands of building a better business being pieced together?
The inaugural Social Media Sustainability Index found 120 companies that were using social media for sustainability comms. Yet, when we dug deeper, just 60 of those were devoting any dedicated resources to that mission.
Fast-forward to the end of 2011 and a new landscape of social media sustainability is emerging. In researching the new SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index we identified at least 250 major corporates that are engaged in some form of social media sustainability comms. Of those more than 100 have a blog, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter channel dedicated to talking about sustainability.
What changed? Well, first, companies have come to realise that embracing social media has made them all media companies and that means they have to publish regularly and with reliable content. Next, take your pick from the Pepsi Refresh Project, GE’s Ecomagination Challenge or IBM’s Smarter Cities and you’ll find big budget and big ideas that made CMOs sit up and say: “We want our good deeds to go viral…”.
The grand ideas of these projects really made sustainability/CSR communications a sexy proposition for many in the world of marketing and corporate communications who, up until that point, had felt the do-gooder stuff was best left buried somewhere at the back of the annual report.
Of course this mainstream marketing embrace of sustainability didn’t simply emerge because of competitive jealousy. In a number of high-profile cases it has been driven by a real commitment with companies to become more sustainable operations. And the companies that truly are making their business more sustainable – be it through improved energy efficiency, lowering emissions, policing their supply chains, pioneering ethical sourcing and promoting equitable working environments – have a distinct advantage in social media communications. That’s because they have a good and believable story to tell and, good storytelling remains the most valuable currency in social media.
The stand out leaders in this year’s Social Media Sustainability Index all have a few things in common: they fully embrace their new-found power to publish and provide useful, regular, transparent and creative content for their social media communities.
Some like Levis, IBM, Sony, Kimberly-Clark and PepsiCo seek to mobilise sustainability and cause-related awareness through heavy marketing-led digital programmes like Levis’ Pioneers, Sony’s Open Planet Ideas, Huggies’ Moms Inspired, PepsiCo’s Womens’ Inspiration Network and, yes, Pepsi Refresh (still going strong).
Others, like GE, Ford, Allianz and VF Corporation’s Timberland have structured their sustainability communications around a very professional editorial operation, supplying information and content through a variety of social media platforms. Companies like Renault and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentario (BBVA), meanwhile, seek to build a cohesive community around social media projects like Sustainable-Mobility, Friends & Family and Open Mind.
One hundred companies blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and YouTubing adds up to a lot of social media sustainability activity. In this second annual Index, we’ve tried to sift through the new noise of all that new people, planet, profit social media commentary to identify the best practice trends. By doing so we hope to provide a social media roadmap for communicators throughout the sustainability and CSR community.
How has social media and sustainability progressed since the first index? What do you think of the projects and initiatives companies in the top ten are working on?
Matthew Yeomans is the lead author of the SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index, and the co-founder of Social Media Influence. The full 49-page index is free to download here.