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Messaging Sustainability:
From Boring to Cool

There, we said it. Sustainability, that thing we all want — that we speak about ad nauseum — it’s dusty, dull, boring.

What seems fundamental to the human spirit is that we all seek advancement, progress and growth. We went from the Ice Age to the Stone Age to the Space Age and changed our world drastically along the way.

Don't Be Preachy

Today, technology and the web have increased connection and made communication easier and faster. We might be addicted to it, but technology is almost always perceived as progress. Progress is action; it is exciting. While we may have moments of nostalgia for the past, we all almost universally want to sign up to the great wild unknown of the future.

Sustainability, at least in the way it is communicated today, is the opposite of all that.

It’s about keeping things the same — worse — it’s about heading backward. Turn off the lights, turn off the water, don’t buy that thing that has caught your eye, don’t drive, don’t travel, just stay where you are in stasis. Sustainability messaging with its vernacular of “no,” “stop” and “don’t” is preachy. It sounds more like strict “Miss Trunchbull” of Matilda fame than the exciting world ahead of us called the future.

As we rush through our lives in increasingly uncertain economic times, desperately trying to sustain our family and build a future for ourselves, the last thing we can bear is a lecture on how wasteful we are and how our actions are killing the planet.

Challenge: Make Sustainability Exciting and Future-Oriented

We do not want to destroy the environment and support slave wages, it’s just that given the stresses in our own lives, it’s easier to shut out the message than to take on such a daunting and amorphous challenge. We prefer instead to use any break we have from our daily grind to escape and to imagine the world of tomorrow, that thing for which we are working so very hard.

As boring as sustainability messaging is, sustainability itself is, nevertheless, vital to the very future of our planet.

Therein lies the challenge: to create a language around sustainability that is exciting and future-oriented. In order to engage, to excite and to get people enthusiastically on board with the sustainability agenda, we need to change the language of “don’t” to a language of progress.

Zady's Model

Zady, a fashion and lifestyle start-up that we launched earlier this year, has sustainability at its core. We search around the world for products made responsibly from materials that are of the highest quality, with the very small and modest goal of creating a revolution against the destructive world of fast fashion.

Instead of preaching to our community on the horrible practices of the fast-fashion industry, we’re working to build a language of sustainability that is progressive, forward-looking, luxurious and most importantly, catchy.

The following are three examples of how we are turning traditional sustainable messages into forward messages of progress.

How We Purchase Products

Old Way: Don’t be a consumer.
New Way: Buy yourself nicer things you’ll want to keep forever.

Here, the underlying message is the same, but the delivery allows people to see that the more sustainable option is actually the most luxurious option. Buying fewer items means being able to afford better — and who wouldn’t want that?

Conserving Energy

Old Way: Don’t leave the lights on.
New Way: Save money and the planet by turning the lights off when they’re not needed.

Making the message more personal and about the contribution to your wallet and a healthier planet, rather than about guilt for not changing current behavior, makes the prospect more positive and thus less likely to be ignored.

What Products We Choose to Buy

Old Way: Don’t buy fast fashion.
New Way: Discover incredible products by reading stories of craftsmanship and quality.

Every product that is sold on Zady has an interview with the designer and a history of the related product. Want to know why the traditional striped shirt has 21 stripes? It was one for each of Napoleon’s victories. Coco Chanel later made the striped shirt synonymous with style when she introduced it in her collection in 1917. The shirts we carry are made in Mohnton, Pennsylvania, and are woven with the accumulated knowledge of six generations of shirt-making.

Telling Stories that Connect

Instead of telling our audience not to buy fast-fashion products, we engage with them on a human level. When you know the story of one of the products you buy, you want to develop the same relationship with the rest of your pieces. This desire gets you less excited about the short thrill of fast fashion and into a more sustainable way of purchasing a product.

Please join in with your own thoughts on how we as a community can change the conversation. Together, we’re going to change the perception of sustainability and make it the lifestyle of the future.

Sounds exciting — can we join?

Find us on Twitter and across social media @Zady.

This post first appeared on CSRwire's Talkback blog on January 10, 2014.

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