Creating fans of brand 'sustainability'

15 Oct 2015

It's not always about shouting louder, or the number of people with whom you raise awareness of a message, for behaviour change it's about the number of people with whom you make a connection and how empowered they feel to go on and make that connection with someone else. For years, community sponsorship or investment has favoured the bottom of the engagement triangle - awareness raising, and for some brands that works because knowing their name is the object of the game. But for those brands that require an emotional connection, for example, the 'brand' of sustainability, we need to be focused on the top - creating fans of our 'brand'. It may take longer and feel slower, but in reality these people can stay with you forever once there and the impact will be both deeper and longer lasting.

I often work with another agency on specific third sector projects, and a while back I worked on the design and delivery of workshops as part of the Natural Childhood Summit for The National Trust. A number of concerns were presented in the enquiry findings that formed the basis of the summit, including the fact that our children are suffering more with mental and physical illnesses, that they are becoming less able or willing to take risks, and that they are becoming effectively disconnected to nature due to lack of time, space and freedom to explore the great outdoors. In trying to give our children opportunities to learn, in trying to alleviate boredom, or in trying to keep them safe, we are unwittingly doing them harm by structuring their play too much, preventing them from roaming and keeping them inside.

The overwhelming thing for me was the concern that we need people to have this deeper, connected sense of the world, where they value environments, species and our planet, if we are ever going to address the way we have continually separated ourselves from the natural environment over the last century and therefore lost our ability to live in a balanced way with everything around us. 

Building this engagement with our natural world is key to the success of any campaign or communications around more sustainable behaviours. It's not that people don't hear messages, or even that they don't know what behaviours are the 'right' ones. I guarantee even the least 'green' family could tell you at least three things they could do to be 'greener' even though they are not doing them. The trouble is that the time hasn't been taken to re-build, or in some cases build, this deep connection with our earth, and therefore tap into the emotional connection that drives their own behaviour.

Perhaps every sustainability campaign must be rooted in first creating reconnections, and that is more than a numbers game.  After all, if we truly change the behaviour of 100 people, who then go on to influence things all around them, couldn't that be deemed more successful than 1000 people being 'aware' of an issue but doing nothing about it. 

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