The new sustainability story If you take a plunge for sustainability—will others follow? By Pamela Fiehn

Nov 16, 2016

As senior creative director for AHA’s CR team, I spend a lot of time thinking, talking, reading and writing about sustainability. I have to wade through a lot of noise. Dry copy packed with bloodless statistics and technical terms. Generic messages overflowing with self-congratulation and corporate back-patting. Fragmented reports trying to tell a dozen stories but failing to tell one.

It’s refreshing when something breaks through.

Adidas made a splash—figuratively and literally—earlier this month when it unveiled the next step in its partnership with Parley for the Oceans: a limited-release shoe and new kits for two of Europe’s leading football clubs made primarily from recycled ocean plastic. The campaign features gorgeous photographs of Bayern Munich’s Xabi Alonso and Real Madrid’s Marcelo in full gear plunging back into a frothy sea. Empty plastic bottles float along the edges of the frame.

I love so many things about this. The imagery. The simplicity. And, most of all, the fact that the ads don’t mention one word about sustainability.

Expanding the conversation

We in the sustainability community generally do a solid job of talking to ourselves. To other people who get it. The struggle comes in trying to reach a broader audience.

The language we use tends to invite conflict and create silos rather than bring us together. Assertions too often become guilt trips and finger-wagging admonishments. Be more responsible with your choices. Do the right thing. We use words that alienate when what we need is language that builds bridges.

Changing the formula

The Adidas ads don’t follow the familiar script—there’s no endangered seabird choked out by a discarded six-pack ring, no big-eyed children picking their way across a garbage-strewn beach. There’s no blame or guilt. No plea for a brighter tomorrow. Instead, there are two athletes proudly wearing their club kits and giving themselves over to the water, sinewy arms thrown wide.

It’s the visual language of fandom. It taps into love for sport, for the club, for the players who do amazing things—on and off the pitch. And that’s a language spoken by billions of people all over the world. So when you slip in the fact that these sports heroes are doing something to help improve the health of our oceans, sustainability suddenly looks cooler too.

Making your own splash

For more on how brands like Adidas craft stories so cool that people want to share them, check out AHA's recent “Language Is a Virus: Why a Sustainability Story Spreads, or Doesn’t” webinar. This one-hour session adapts one of the most talked-about and highly rated Sustainable Brands workshops from SB’15 London and SB’16 San Diego to an online format.

Watch now to explore the landscape of language and discover communication tools that can make your sustainability story contagious.

Pamela Fiehn

Pamela's the chief creative inspirer on our corporate responsibility work, and she’s dead set on transforming how the world thinks and talks about sustainability.

More from Pamela Fiehn:

Brand purpose: Getting buy-in beyond your tribe

#endcynicism? How?

What it takes to be BRAVE

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#endcynicism? How?

We want to convince others that investing in sustainability can make a difference—but the barrier of cynicism keeps rising. Instead of talking louder, maybe it’s time to shut up. And listen better.

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