Andrea Learned

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Communications Provincialism: The Bane of Sustainable Business

Something is going on in sustainable business communications that makes me think of those self-help books written to make even the most brilliant of women feel comfortable talking up their brilliance. What is happening is that incredible game-changing sustainable business wisdom is developing all over the country and globe, but word of it is somehow not reaching beyond local audiences. It makes no sense.

Sustainable business has no room for provincial communications.  Yet, very few of the companies we need to hear about now are prioritizing or taking the risk to write, speak or share their brilliance with the broader public and social media sphere. How much more should these businesses expect than a good mention in their local paper? A lot more.

No matter how small its city of origin, any idea or innovation that contributes to sustainability should be treated as gold and could benefit from being nationally shared and discussed. The point is to make sustainable business the norm. The more it is talked or written about, the more others can learn, and the better off we will all be.

Forget Provincialism

What if Patagonia saw itself only as a climbing company and outdoor apparel retailer for customers in its homebase northern California region? Yvon Chouinard would not be the revered sustainability pioneer he is, the one who built the thriving clothing brand while also forging incredible partnerships with competitors and changing entire industries (like textiles). He has written and given interviews to help educate businesses beyond Patagonia brand borders.  In the same way, what if Ray C. Anderson, with his personal conviction to transition Interface to sustainable ways, had kept his head down, made the company the best and never written down his experiences or lessons learned? We don’t have to worry about it, because in his too-short lifetime he did write books, and give presentations and interviews, that inspired all sorts of business leaders to climb “Mount Sustainability.”

Though they didn’t need to, these two sustainable business gurus realized that what they were onto was significant and they let it take them where it would – much beyond their own industries.

Share Your Wisdom, Broadly

You are already thinking, talking and writing about your ideas, whether for your own site, your executive team presentations or your marketing collateral. And, the only way sustainability can really take hold in business is if those who have new ideas or notice patterns (even if in only one very narrow topic area) bother to document their wisdom, and share it. Social media offers some incredible ways to amplify it all.  Three simple ways to move past communications provincialism include:

Creating content: Consider developing a blog. This need not be an arduous writing task for the CEO alone. Instead, think of it as an editorial process, where a communications team take responsibility for curating a steady flow, sharing link suggestions, or developing videos and articles that reflect the smarts of the company as a sustainability resource.

Using social media: Pick a social network or two. (LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to start for sharing business-to-business wisdom, especially). Invest time in identifying influencers and finding the types of conversations worth joining. Then, strategically build your engagement levels with even a few people to develop an active and interested follower base. The key: by sharing great links along the way, you build trust, and the content your organization does publish in the longer run will more likely be well received – and re-shared.

Giving webinars or speaking: Once you’ve tended to the above, you will have a solid platform from which to expand your reach. Audiences will want to hear more from you, so look for ways to participate in webinars. You will obviously reach bigger audiences by doing them, and, paired with occasional offline speaking events, your in-person presence will only help humanize your wisdom for even more sustainability-interested business people.

I could go on and on (and people who know me will attest to this). The provincial communications perspective is old-fashioned and counterproductive for today’s times. If you sense that you are onto something that could contribute to the greater sustainable business movement, it is your responsibility to do it!

There will always be many, many companies doing incredible work and many leaders with amazing ideas who remain unable to risk vulnerability and/or commit time to writing, “socializing” their content or speaking. If you are intrigued enough to be reading this, you’ve likely had a niggling thought about sharing your own ideas with a broader audience. The sustainability movement needs both your wisdom and your bold step into the public sphere as an example.