Soft Sustainability. Communicating for the future

What do you think when you hear the word sustainability? Do you think about a company’s charitable, or altruistic, behaviour? Shouldn’t sustainability be something more concrete than charity or altruism, shouldn’t it be the responsibility of a modern business? Shouldn’t it be expected? Whatever images the word “Sustainability” conjures up in your mind, unanimously we agree that companies have a responsibility to treat the environment and communities respectfully.


The struggle facing modern marketers and communicators in explaining sustainability is how to transmit its importance without alienating the audience with complicated terminology and industry buzzwords. How to connect with the audience at an emotional level, in an entertaining, informative and authentic way. Connecting with people on issues that they are passionate about, simple things from showing support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, to paying workers a decent wage, and of course not polluting or wasting the planet’s resources.

Welcome to, what Matthew Yeomans describes as, “Soft sustainability”.

Matthew Yeomans is the founder of Sustainly, a company bridging the gap between the world of sustainability and communication. He is one of over 40 speakers at this year’s Sustainable Brands Barcelona’s conferences (23rd and 24th of May) in the IESE Business School of Barcelona.

In a 2015 article, Yeomans writes, Unilever, Intel, Coca-Cola Company, Philips…- all successfully communicate what practitioners recognize as sustainability without, for the most part, ever ushering the S word.” But what does soft sustainability look like in the real world?

In 2013 the mexican-food chain Chipotle released an animated short called “The Scarecrow.” The film was  praised as an innovative piece of marketing and beautiful work of art, and has been applauded for its anti-factory-farming message.

As of today, it had been viewed nearly 15,6 million times on YouTube. One of the most impressive feats of the scarecrow is how  successfully it communicates a message of environmental responsibility, the company’s “farm fresh” food values, values it shares with its customers, and it does all this never uttering a word. This piece of marketing is the epitome of soft sustainability, promoting environmental responsibility in a way that is inclusive and accessible to the audience.

When we talk about the environment we are referring to the planet and its resources, of course, but never forgetting it’s greatest recourse, us. Modern business owes a debt of responsibility not only to the planet but to the societies, the cities, countries and communities in which they operate. Excellent soft sustainability campaigns like the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” or Danone’s collaboration with the singer Shakira on behalf of the World Food Programme’s school meals initiative, are showing us that these companies share our values.

Modern corporations need to be positive role models, to understand your problems, share your values, and work in your communities to make the world a better place to live. Communicating their goals effectively, emotionally, creatively, is key to the future of sustainability.


Watch Matthew Yeomans at Sustainable Brands Barcelona 2015.

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