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Sustainability Communications: The problem with mixed messages

Done right, telling a story is simple: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.  And, of course, practice what you preach.  It’s called reinforcement.

Unfortunately, in communicating sustainability, we often don’t follow those basic ideas.  In fact, we do just the opposite.  It’s called mixed messages.

Mixed messages are everywhere – recycling is important but there aren’t enough recycling bins.  We want people to buy local food, but many communities have such stringent land use requirements that it just won’t work.

And here’s the latest, ridiculous example: Earth Hour starts at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow.  The World Wildlife Fund wants us to turn out our lights for 1 hour to conserve energy.  Many downtown office buildings in Cleveland and other cities are participating (it’s not exactly a significant sacrifice during a weekend evening, but it’s a start).

Unfortunately, tonight, we’re being asked to leave the downtown lights on to “light up Cleveland” for a national basketball television audience.

That’s what I call mixed messages.  And being in the dark about what motivates the average person.

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