Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How businesses can engage consumers in their sustainability stories | The Guardian

Consumers are facing information overload. Tapping into people’s values and sharing positive messages will help connect over sustainability

Communicating simple, inspiring stories of efforts to tackle complex social and environmental issues is an ongoing challenge for today’s businesses. Somewhere amid the cacophony of sustainability communications, consumers are reaching information overload.

As the effects of corporate ‘greenwashing’, ethical scandals and climate change doom-mongering take their toll, a kind of apathy is taking hold. Globally, just 28% of people believes business is doing enough to protect the planet and contribute to society, according to Accenture and the UN Global Compact (pdf).

In 10 years, the pressure to deliver concrete proof of green claims will intensify. “We’ll see a push for radical transparency and increasing scrutiny of businesses by consumers,” says Futerra co-founder Ed Gillespie. “To make their sustainability stories stand out from the crowd, businesses will need to make a fundamental transition – to reconnect with a deeper sense of purpose. This must fit perfectly with their core business, capture how they add value to the world, and resonate with people emotionally and rationally.”

So how will businesses of the future communicate their sustainability stories effectively and, further, inspire people to take action?

Tuning into values

Encouraging people to consume less and make lifestyle changes will largely depend on companies’ abilities to tap into people’s value systems, believes Eda Gurel-Atay, researcher and author of Communicating Sustainability for the Green Economy.

“Companies can’t change people’s deep-rooted social values, so they’ll need to try harder to understand them,” says Gurel-Atay. “This means tuning into the value systems of audiences in different countries, and personalising communications – tailoring messages to connect with people’s values and motivations.”

Telling sustainability stories in this way will also tap into the millennial market, according to Karen Deignan, senior consultant at SalterBaxter. “This is a generation who are more socially aware than ever and want to buy from brands that connect with them on issues they care about,” she explains.

Indeed, 83% of global millennials want brands and companies to become more active in solving the world’s challenges, research by MSL Group suggests.

Seeing is believing

In addition to delivering transparent evidence of their own results, tomorrow’s businesses will need to consider how to reflect the results of their customers’ actions. People will want to see how their contribution is making a tangible difference to the world, Gurel-Atay predicts. Social media could play an important role here. For example, the Instant hero campaign by bottled water company One Water gave customers the opportunity to project themselves as superheroes online – complete with cape and power boots – to highlight their contribution to delivering clean water to developing communities in Africa.

Collaborating with audiences

“We’ll see companies taking a far more interactive approach to sustainability communications,” says Gillespie. “Businesses will increasingly look to crowdsource ideas, and campaigns will become a lot more participatory. It will be more about businesses and consumers working in partnership, making decisions as a team.”

Nick Liddell, strategy director at design business Dragon Rouge agrees that “it will be a completely different kind of relationship.” “Central to this will be abandoning one-directional broadcasts and seeing consumers as people. That way, companies will be able to engage with people in multiple ways, beyond the straight consumption of goods.”

One corporate-backed initiative tapping into the spirit of collaboration is Collectively, a new editorial platform launched by Forum for the Future and major businesses including Unilever, Coca-Cola, M&S, BT and Carlsberg. Formed to encourage millennials to make sustainable lifestyles ‘the new normal’, it aims to inspire change by encouraging participation with positive stories of hope and progression.

Focusing on the positive

“Brands will need to communicate in a more sophisticated, strategic way to capture people’s imagination,” says Liddell. “This starts with knowing when not to share good work that people expect you to be doing anyway, and being more rigorous about communicating the things that really add value.”

Changing the language of sustainability communications will be central to this transition: in short, business must adopt a simpler, more upbeat rhetoric. “Sustainability is the only field where ‘zero’ is seen as a good thing,” continues Liddell. “Businesses must make a wholesale change from communicating efforts to reduce impacts to leading on value and benefits.” For example the light-hearted Intermarché ‘Inglorious fruits and vegetables’ campaign, which highlighted the benefits of buying ugly produce, proved so popular in France that the supermarket’s competitors have since followed suit.

Mainstreaming sustainability

“Today, sustainability is often marketed as an add-on feature, rather than an aspirational brand ethos or promise,” concludes Deignan. “Fast forward 10 years and it will stand for a whole range of benefits that, combined together, simply mean ‘better’. Substantiating this big picture message will mean highlighting exactly how the product or service is smarter, healthier or fairer in readily understandable terms.”

BMW already refers to its new generation of electric cars as “redefining mobility”. The product claims to be creating a better future for urban travel, weaving the green credentials of its ‘i’ series within a broader message on innovative design and convenience.

As sustainability becomes a key ingredient in the way brands communicate, people are more likely to absorb the message without even realising there’s a green agenda. And it is not inconceivable to hope that one day we will describe businesses, not by turnover or share value, but by how they are making society better.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A how-to guide to restoring tropical forest | SciDev.Net

Through numerous experiments, the Forest Restoration Research Unit at Chiang Mai University, Thailand, have found ways to optimise seedling vigour and health. As a result, they have developed an efficient way to restore tropical forest ecosystems, with advantages for biodiversity conservation, environmental protection and carbon storage.

Steve Elliott, the unit’s cofounder and research director, explains why forests do not restore themselves any more, and argues that reforestation must enter the drone age.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Journey of Women's Rights: 1911-2015 | UN Women

UN Women captures the journey of women's rights from 1911-2015, and key moments of the women's movements globally.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Indigenous Peruvians win Amazon pollution payout from US oil giant | The Guardian

By Dan Collyns, The Guardian

Out-of-court settlement ends long legal battle for compensation for deaths, birth defects and environmental damage allegedly caused by Occidental’s pollution

Members of the indigenous Achuar tribe from the Peruvian Amazon have won an undisclosed sum from Occidental Petroleum in an out-of-court settlement after a long-running legal battle in the US courts

They sued the company in 2007, alleging it knowingly caused pollution which caused premature deaths, birth defects and damaged their habitat.

It is the first time a company from the United States has been sued in a US court for pollution it caused in another country, Marco Simons, the legal director of EarthRights International, which represented the Achuar people in the lawsuit, said. It set a “precedent” which he said will be “significant for future cases and has already been cited by other courts in the United States”.

The case was initially dismissed in 2008 when the federal district court agreed with Occidental Petroleum that the case should be heard in Peru rather than Los Angeles, the plaintiffs successfully appealed to overturn this decision, and the US supreme court refused to hear the company’s arguments in 2013.

The funds provided by the company through a trust will be used for health, education and nutrition projects run by a collective of five Achuar communities (Antioquía, José Olaya, Nueva Jerusalén, Pampa Hermosa and Saukí) that filed the lawsuit. All come from the Corrientes river basin in Peru’s northern Amazon.

One of the plaintiffs, Adolfina Sandi alleges her 11-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter died after drinking water from the contaminated river.

“We didn’t know the impact of the pollution and the company never told us. My son and daughter died vomiting blood. They never confirmed to us why they had died,” she said. Speaking her native Achuar language, Sandi said she was grateful for the settlement even though her children would not benefit from the projects.

LA-based Occidental Petroleum drilled for oil in Peru’s block 1-AB – one of the country’s biggest oil concessions – between 1971 and 2000, during which time it spewed out around 9bn gallons of untreated “produced waters” containing heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and arsenic into the rivers and streams without regard for international standards, according to a report by the NGO Amazon Watch.

In 2006, a study by Peru’s health ministry in seven affected communities revealed that all but two of the 199 people tested had levels of cadmium in their blood above safe levels. In the same year, the Achuar seized oil wells, forcing the government and the Argentinian company Pluspetrol which took over the block in 2000 to remediate the environmental damage by reinjecting the production waters.

But conditions have not improved with Pluspetrol. The Peruvian government declared an environmental emergency in the Corrientes basin in 2013. The company, which operates oil and gas fields across Peru’s Amazon, is challenging nearly $13m in environmental fines through Peru’s courts, according to the country’s environmental supervision agency.

Arli Sandi, an Achuar leader from Saukí, said the communities would not be afraid to file a similar lawsuit against Pluspetrol.

In January, Achuar, Kichwa and Urarina communities seized Pluspetrol oil wells in Peru’s northern Amazon demanding the company pay compensation for contamination and the use of their territories.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Johan Rockstrom: Let the environment guide our development | TED TALK

Human growth has strained the Earth's resources, but as Johan Rockstrom
reminds us, our advances also give us the science to recognize this and
change behavior. His research has found nine "planetary boundaries" that
can guide us in protecting our planet's many overlapping ecosystems.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How Does Africa Speak with One Voice on Post 2015 Sustainable Development? | ECDPM

Africa is increasingly seeking to formulate a common African position ahead of key international events.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

6,000 mosques to go solar in Jordan

By Sami Grover, Treehugger

We've already heard about a solar-powered mosque in Turkey and a wind-powered one in Germany. Now, according to reports on a website called Eden Keeper, the government of Jordan is putting its weight behind a plan to solarize the country's 6,000 mosques.

Billed as a cooperation between Jordan's Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and its Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, the project will initially see some 120 mosques receive funding for solar power systems, with installation starting this year, but the eventual plan is apparently to install solar on all of Jordan's mosques.

There are many reasons why this is very, very cool. Just like when a church goes solar, or when the World Council of Churches divests from fossil fuels, the immense symbolism and cultural influence of religious authorities can be used to set the tone for how we think about energy and the world around us. Indeed, the push for solar mosques coincided with a campaign to promote solar on residential rooftops too.

Of course there is also something else cool about Jordan's solar powered mosques: They are used. And they are used a lot.

With five regular prayer times a day, mosques are busy spaces with whopping energy bills. According to Aisha Abdelhamid of Eden Keeper, Jordan imports most of its energy at very high prices. If these spaces can use solar power to lessen their impact, the cumulative impact should contribute to a lower demand on the country's strained electricity grid.

We look forward to seeing this scheme roll out.