Sustainability Communications: Is the Message Right?

Sustainability and the Three P’s (the concept, not the blog and @threeps Twitter account) seem to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis.

For example, noted MIT professor and sustainability guru Peter Senge now says “sustainability” is at risk of losing its effectiveness as a term. He says sustainability or the lack thereof has become too closely linked to survival and fear of collapse. And, remember, the rise of “sustainability” came in response to concerns about “green” overkill.

Furthermore, the “Three P’s” are becoming ambiguous. Until very recently, “People, Planet, Profit” was the generally accepted long version. Now, some business organizations have changed “Profit” into “Profits,” and it’s becoming the first of the Three P’s in the triple bottom line. And if the Three P’s aren’t enough, sustainability also has the “Five R’s”: rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle, and report out on your achievements.

In the day-to-day development of sustainable products and practices and alternative energy, engineers and technicians don’t get hung up on what to call it. But, in communications, words matter; and the words, key messages and sound bites often determine success or failure in winning the hearts and minds of business leaders and the general public.

So the next time somebody says it doesn’t matter what we call it, think twice. What you do is still more important than what you say, but what you say and how you say it will be what people remember.

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