SXSW Eco: Let’s Stop Talking About Sustainability: How Our Current Vocabulary is Failing Us

By Marcie Barnes

Panelists: Andrew Hutson – Project Manager, Corporate Partnerships for Environmental Defense Fund; Gary Lawrence – VP and Chief Sustainability Officer, AECOM; Jeff Nesbit – Executive Director, Climate Nexus; John Rooks – President and Founder, The SOAP Group; Brooke Buchanan – Director of Communications for Sustainability, Wal-Mart.

Perspectives on how to approach different audiences with a different narrative.

Nuggets from the panel:

Words like sustainability cause people’s eyes to glaze over all the time. What do we need to be doing differently? We need to be able to have a conversation. No one will use the word ‘climate’ in Washington right now. Don’t lead with ideas that threaten people’s core beliefs, etc. People seek out ideas that conform to their core beliefs. If you hear something that challenges your core belief, you tune it out or look for it’s fault(s).

You have to tell the story in a compelling way to each audience. We’re passionate but talk about it in sterile terms.

To most people ‘sustainability’ means nothing. Needs to be communicated that it’s about outcomes for humans, not the environment. It’s a great word for companies, executives, etc. but not for regular people. They understand simpler things like clean air, clean water.

The language in the national security and the ‘fundamental’ audiences is vastly different from in the environmental movement.

Wal-Mart does not plan to rate all of their products on their sustainability scale, they are working on it but there are too many.

The word happiness matters, sustainability tends to be all about risk. People like us can make a difference in the future in our species. The language problem is critical, we have to focus on the things that drive people’s daily concerns.

Correlation between evolution denialists & climate denialists – do not talk science with them, should be more about “creation care.” Recycling creates jobs, etc.

“We don’t need to save the planet, the planet will survive, we need to save us.” – Nesbit

We’ve dropped the moral argument, we need to make that argument without finger-wagging.

Empathy is very important when communicating with people who “don’t understand.”

“For the Bible Tells Me So” recommended to watch on Netflix. Unconditional love trumps all in difficult situations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Response to SXSW Eco: Let’s Stop Talking About Sustainability: How Our Current Vocabulary is Failing Us

  1. [...] Words like sustainability cause people’s eyes to glaze over all the time. What do we need to be doing differently? We need to be able to have a conversation. No one will use the word ‘climate’ in Washington right now. Don’t lead with ideas that threaten people’s core beliefs, etc. People seek out ideas that conform to their core beliefs. If you hear something that challenges your core belief, you tune it out or look for its fault(s). [...]

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