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Feb 28, 2024

Communicating sustainability strategically

"Sustainability communication" cannot be defined without addressing the main objective of communication in a business context: profit. How can professionals in the field achieve both profitability and sustainability for their organizations?

The profit-centered nature of traditional business communication is reinforced by "rewards" for achieving specific goals. But as awareness of corporate sustainability gains ground, we are beginning to question these traditional concepts and goals.

The current transition to sustainability communication is one of the most significant in recent years. The often negative impact of companies on society and the environment requires a different positioning. As professionals, we play a crucial role in influencing the public - both to reverse a culture of fast consumption and to encourage more sustainable purchasing decisions.

Improving the impact of companies has never been more important. Not integrating sustainability into the communication strategy is no longer an option. The planet needs a new approach. But in order to practice sustainable marketing, you first need to understand what it means and its role in the bigger picture of sustainability.

What does sustainable communication mean?

Some describe sustainable communication as "the marketing of environmentally friendly or ecological products", while others say it consists of "not prioritizing profit over the planet".

However, most definitions form part of a much broader picture. To complete it, we have to look at the definition of sustainability itself.

Understanding sustainability or sustainable development

One of the most widely accepted definitions of sustainability is development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations (World Commission on Environment and Development). This development is often identified in three broad areas: economic, environmental and social. Companies must create wealth to reduce poverty, but do so without damaging the natural environment. To do this, it is necessary to think in the long term and consider concepts such as human rights and social justice, natural resources and waste.

But where do communication professionals fit in?

Definitions of sustainability can often be so broad or general that they seem to absolve us of any responsibility. "Meeting the needs of future generations" seems to be a task for the government or a large company.

To complicate matters further, the word "sustainability" means many things in the marketing world. Sustainability is usually used in other business concepts such as "sustainable competitive advantage" and "sustainable growth". In other cases, it simply means "resilience".

Sustainability communication should be practiced in small steps. It's true that professionals can't completely and immediately change an organization's positioning, but there are ways of orienting them towards this dimension. Some of these include:

Product development

Communication professionals can work with product design teams and other key decision-makers to achieve sustainability and profitability. Sustainability can be considered at every stage of the product development process, from the initial idea to the sourcing of raw materials and packaging considerations.

The issues are not always simple. A product may appear "green" according to some indicators, but not be truly necessary or sustainable. An example would be consumers buying products in recycled plastic packaging rather than without any packaging at all. It is essential to take into account the product's life cycle, both in terms of its environmental and social impact.


When an organization is ready to embrace sustainability, marketing strategy becomes critical. Issues such as planned obsolescence, unsustainable packaging and the fast fashion are the direct effects of marketing strategies centered exclusively on capitalism and profit.

One proven strategy we can use is the use of "nudges", or subtle behavioral cues. For example, the researchers found that hotel restaurants that used "simple, non-intrusive stimuli", such as reducing the size of dishes and posting signs about waste, reduced the amount of food waste by around 20%.

By creating strategies that reduce waste and operating costs, we can help create a win-win situation for companies and consumers, while still embracing sustainability.


The brand messages are one of the most powerful tools available to a communications professional. Imagine a world in which we take advantage of our possible visibility as consumer influencers to create brands and messages that lead consumers to make more sustainable purchasing decisions.

One of the most interesting aspects of being a professional in this field is seeing how strategies influence user behavior and create consumer cultures. An excellent starting point for practicing sustainability is to explore ways of facilitating more sustainable cultural behaviors through communication.


Companies are realizing that sustainability is not just a matter for one organization. To have a significant impact, companies must promote sustainability partnerships. To address challenges such as the lack of a common definition or any regulation, it is possible to create a common product rating system to assess sustainability.

Partnerships at an even smaller level - such as at departmental level - may also be relevant. Collaboration between departments should be encouraged with regard to sustainability, reducing internal competition.

Education and awareness

Communication professionals can be real "educators" when it comes to sustainability. Every meeting with directors/CEOs and every communication strategy session is an opportunity to educate about sustainability.

For the public, we play the fundamental role of transforming the brand message into one that is more oriented towards sustainability. For managers, we can draw on studies that show that becoming a sustainable organization positively affects the bottom line. Given that the majority of business leaders and stakeholders are primarily concerned with profit, it is our duty to show them how implementing sustainable practices can increase the company's profitability and lead to a longer life cycle for products and organizations.



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