Sustainability needs a boost. It needs to get out more. Maybe it needs a face-lift or a name change – or a nickname. Referred to as “susty” in some social media nooks and crannies, it’s just plain old boring #sustainability on Twitter. The debutante ball for sustainability has yet to happen. People who are not sustainability managers, environmentalists or “green” business owners seem to be missing the point, and that’s because susty needs our help. We need to more thoroughly and more consistently explain to the lay world what it is and why it’s important.
If sustainability were a teenager, she would certainly have insecurities. “Strange girl… we just can’t quite figure out what she’s all about.” What exactly is sustainability? How does one notice it? How does one achieve it? Who is REALLY being sustainable? And who’s only claiming to be? People need to know what to do; they need solutions in the form of action items. But they first must be able to understand the language.
For many of us, the early pursuits to “save the planet,” “go green,” “be environmentally responsible,” and “reduce our ecological footprint” did not include a well-defined glossary of official eco-terminology. We couldn’t talk the talk. Anaerobic digestion, life-cycle analysis, residuals mitigation, extended producer responsibility, and reverse-network capabilities are either too technical or too starch-collar. Our lexicon was ‘recycling’ and maybe ‘composting.’ Waste not, want not. Now that we speak that high-level susty language, we need to translate it into simple terms, or risk losing our audience in a hurry. And if the wordsmithing of our message is critical to keeping our audience, then the frequency of our message will be vital in our pursuit of changing minds.
Now that we’re in it – and genuinely want to be responsible – we need to get the word out. Brag a little. One Earth Recycling, owned and operated by Josh Turchin, has done just that. His latest business model is recycling storefronts at the mall – a “boutique environment with crisp design and lighting patterned on today’s most successful retailers.” Heading to the store? Drop by the One Earth storefront and redeem your recyclables. His video is on their website: www.oneearthrecycling.com. It’s an overview, “big picture” video more than a “hey, look what we’re doing to be more sustainable” message. And that makes sense, since his entire business is centered on one of the practices of sustainability: recycling.
Solar companies, green building consultants and reuse retailers fall into that same category – they are in the business of sustainability. But hoteliers, accountants and breweries are not. So when those types of businesses (as well as manufacturers, shipping companies and an endless list of others who are getting on board with “CSRs,” Corporate Social Responsibility reports) lead the way in communicating the paradigm shift toward zero waste, a circular economy and sustainability as core elements of their business culture, we need to pay attention to that modeled behavior – and applaud it. We are starting to see more and more sustainability managers handling initiatives that are good for the planet, good for the bottom line and good for the company image. They’re only good for company image, however, if the word gets out.
Social Media needs media. Facebook is basically a video player. Twitter is virtually wall-to-wall images – or links to articles, blogs and videos. Instagram has dropped their 15-second limitation on video. The time is right for, and the culture is ripe with video content. For businesses whose business is sustainability, they should be crowing from the mountain top with creative ways to communicate what sets them apart from others in their sector. They need to connect personally in this digital world we’ve carved out for ourselves. Faces on the screen with real, “from the heart” messaging. For businesses whose business is NOT sustainability, but for whom sustainability is part of their company’s heart, they have a strategic need – and in fact an obligation – to inform the world. Getting that word out is vital to communicate that susty should be part of ALL businesses’ hearts and souls; it is part of the change that we must make, and it should be an overt and alert part of all PEOPLE’S hearts and minds; it needs to be part of our culture.
The cold hard truth is, where business and celebrity go, the flock will follow. Where children push their parents, the parents will pay attention. Focused, strategic video content rollout is a great way to brag a little. And if your company is dancing with susty at the pre-debutante warmup party, the world needs to know. The party needs to get started. The children need to know. Sustainability awareness and acceptance will take time, but it will be well worth the effort when the enlightened masses gasp, “I get it.”
The consumer needs to be able to pick: products and services from companies that pay attention to environmental responsibility because it’s part of their core mission statement and company culture, or products and services from companies that don’t seem to care – or that only claim to care.
Bigsly Enterprises (www.bigsly.com) is a video production company that talks that talk, shoots those images and walks that walk. The company collaborates with Zero Waste San Diego, a non-profit advocate and educator of zero waste philosophies, programs and legislation. When Zero Waste San Diego invites sponsors and presenters to be part of their annual Zero Waste Symposium, one can rest assured there are no green-washers allowed. The 2016 symposium was held at the County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa. The presentations covered reuse/repair, organics diversion and plastics in the marine biosphere. The presetnations can be seen here: http://zerowastesandiego.org/zero-waste-symposium-presenters/ (or go to zerowastesandiego.org, click on the “Events” pulldown, and select “Zero Waste Symposium Presenters”).
These presentations testify to the programs happening right now. These people need to be heard. Their programs need to be promoted and supported financially – shouted from the mountain tops. And green-hearted businesses that are championing sustainability have to be heard as well: strategically, creatively and compellingly.
We will get there. The “future us” is looking back at the “current us” and saying the same thing we are now saying about the “past us”: “We really did that? We had sharp metal pop tops on our soda cans? …and threw them on the ground? We had WHITES ONLY signs on restrooms? We let raw sewage flow into the ocean? We didn’t allow women to vote? We dumped our used car oil in the gutter? We drove without seat belts? We didn’t have blue bins?”
Forty years from now, it will seem unfathomable that we thought an unsustainable energy system would last forever: sheer insanity. Thirty years from now it will seem crazy that we had linear material streams in manufacturing: nonsense. Twenty years from now we will be flabbergasted that we chucked organic material into a hole or a furnace: idiocy. It’s time to start communicating how we’re getting smarter.
Bob Sly is a 30-year multimedia professional who has been covering zero waste happenings since 2007. Zero Waste is a goal we must perpetually pursue.