Brendle Group shares our best practices and lessons learned from more than two decades of experience working with people to improve sustainability practices.

By Katie Kershman

“If people only knew more about sustainability, they’d change their behavior.” Every sustainability professional, climate activist, or well-intended citizen has probably thought along this line at one point or another. Unfortunately, research shows this just isn’t the case. For more on that, check out this article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review Stop Raising Awareness Already.

If we look at our own behavior (and chances are if you’re reading this, you’re more sustainability-minded than the average person), we see the falsehood of this reflected. How often have you driven a single-passenger vehicle when you could have taken public transport? Or thrown something away that might have been repurposed? Or left the lights on in an unoccupied room?

This reality is especially true when considering underserved markets. For example, if you’re working two jobs to make ends meet, how likely are you to go out of your way to do something in a more sustainable manner? If your utility bill is a set monthly cost, how likely are you to turn the air conditioning up after a long day working outside in the summer heat? Understanding these elements of an audience’s lifestyle is essential for finding common ground and ultimately persuading the audience to participate in sustainable practices.

Here’s our top 5 tips to create outreach campaigns that promote meaningful change:


1. Narrow your audience
I’m often told the target audience for a communications piece is “everyone.” However, targeting everyone typically results in little to no action. Lots of people may hear your message but this doesn’t actually translate to impact. Communication is most effective when you’ve identified a target audience that’s as narrowly defined as possible. Look to define an audience that has shared lifestyles, behaviors, beliefs, etc.

2. Use the right vehicle to deliver the message
Sometimes the messenger is as important as the message. Focus on delivering your message through well-established and trusted resources. To identify the right delivery method, go back to the research on your target audience. How does the audience receive information? Who do they trust? It’s important not to assume you know the answer to these questions – always verify your decisions with individuals within your target audience.

3. Communicate need and benefits
Once you understand your target audience and have a way to deliver your message, you can create the message. It’s important to focus on details that resonate with your audience. Connect sustainable practices to positive outcomes for the audience’s life (what do they need to accomplish?) and empower them to create this positive outcome.

4. Create a clear and achievable call to action
Only after establishing shared interest can we tell the audience what we want them to do. Focus on a call to action that’s clear, concise, and straightforward to complete. Avoid providing a bunch of extra background information, mixing your message with several steps, or providing several ways to complete the call to action.

5. Follow up
Many sustainability actions are connected to routine behavior. It’s incredibly important to reinforce your message several times to ensure the behavior becomes routine. A few ideas for how to remind your audience include:

    • Prompts: There’s a reason so many public light switches have reminders next to them to turn off the lights. These prompts serve as reminders to take sustainability action – increasing the likelihood it becomes a habit. Look for ways to prompt your audience to participate in your desired sustainability action close to where that action occurs.
    • Commitments: Asking your audience to commit to the sustainability action (preferably in a public way) will help encourage them to follow through.
    • Encourage your audience to talk to their peers about the topic. This activity will help remind your audience about their sustainability action with the added bonus of encouraging others to participate.
    • Make the action meaningful: Explain the reason or result of the action. For example, according to the Department of Energy, you can save as much as 10% a year by adjusting your thermostat 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day.

For more ideas related to this, check out the book Fostering Sustainable Behavior by Doug McKenzie-Mohr, Ph.D.

We’d love to hear about your experiences and lessons learned. Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author – Katie is a gifted marketing strategist with twelve years of experience in marketing communication, brand building, behavior change, consumer insights, service transformation, and marketing analytics. Her expertise runs the gamut of marketing programs, from developing and executing marketing strategies for nationwide media campaigns to organizing grassroots communication efforts. She’s skilled at understanding each client’s unique needs and customizing a marketing approach to achieve critical program outcomes.

Katie specializes in marketing for sustainability impact and has extensive experience working with clients to achieve their sustainability goals in alignment with larger operations needs. She also has traditional marketing expertise including managing marketing budgets, facilitating radio and video commercial recordings; developing periodical newsletters; and coordinating with public relations staff for deliberate and targeted media impact. She’s well versed in content management systems, search engine optimization (SEO), customer relationship management (CRM), copywriting and storytelling, social media engagement, and marketing automation.

Her repertoire includes exceptional communication skills, creative approaches for inbound marketing, comprehensive market research and analysis, and empowering content.