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Nudge, don’t judge – 8 steps to effective sustainability communications

Customers need more information about the responsibility of tourism service providers. This blog lists eight engaging and effective ways to do sustainability communications.


Annika Konttinen

lehtori, matkailuliiketoiminta
Senior Lecturer, tourism business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 27.04.2021

When we researched responsible tourism companies in Finland earlier this year, we noticed that there is need for more sustainability communications. Customers need more information about the responsibility of tourism service providers.

We found several engaging and effective ways to do sustainability communications and would like to share the top eight with you here.

Think about the tone of voice – be persuasive and encouraging

Push customers towards thinking more sustainably, without being judgmental. No one wants to feel guilty about their holiday habits. Explaining how tourists can influence the level of responsibility with their own actions makes it personal. Later, tourists can talk about their experiences with friends and family and thereby increase sustainability thinking on a global scale.

Visit Saimaa – in the heart of Finnish Lakeland – is somewhat a trail blazer in the sustainability communication front in Finland. They have put a lot of effort into making responsibility work visible on the website. They have written an encouraging, both appealing and advisory, guidebook for the responsible traveler. So far, the sustainability information is available in Finnish only, but hopefully it will be translated into English to get a wider audience for their excellent work.

Appeal to emotions – don’t just list facts

When emotions are involved, experiences leave lasting memories. Emotional storytelling is a powerful method to educate people and influence their behavior. A turtle conservation initiative in Costa Rica promotes its work with an award-winning and powerful video of turtle babies.

Palau, a small island in the Pacific Ocean, was facing severe environmental and social threats caused by increasing visitor flows. Something more powerful had to be done to direct visitors towards responsible actions.

Palau was the first country in 2017 to ask visitors to sign a pledge and thus, give their commitment to respecting local nature and culture. Today, everyone entering the island needs to sign the pledge and get it stamped on their passports. So far, about 480,000 pledges have been signed

The most effective part of the pledge campaign has been a video which is shown on the flight to Palau. On the video, Palau children tell a story about a giant which destroys their natural environment. The video touches emotions and helps visitors understand the harmful impacts of irresponsible behavior to the local people.

It is reported that, 96 percent of tourists say, the pledge made them consider their actions more closely. 65 percent say they used the principles during their stay to protect the delicate environment. The Palau pledge campaign is a campaign worth studying for tourism destinations and companies alike.

Be positive and show the benefits

90 day Finn is a relocation program for selected technology professionals. The program was launched in November 2020 and invites the entrants and their families to work and live in Finland. In fact, the idea was to show the tech talents all the many reasons why they should choose Helsinki over Silicon Valley.

On the campaign website the benefits of living in Finland are listed. Clean air to breathe, tap water to drink, safety in the streets and the wild nature, even in the metropolitan region are things that make a huge impression on visitors. Other listed points are the healthiest work-life balance worldwide, top class education for the children and hanging out with the happiest people on Earth. What more benefits could tech talents crave?

Visit Finland has prepared a handbook of tips for sustainability communications. It helps companies tell clients about things Finland should be proud of.

Connect global concerns to the local context

Companies are relying on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) to showcase their responsibility work. This shows in the sustainability communications of airlines (e.g. Finnair), hotels (e.g. Scandic) and destinations (e.g. Helsinki). The goals offer a framework for sustainability and companies can choose the ones that their operations have the most effect on.

The Save Salla promotional campaign caught the attention of the world earlier this year. Within one month the video reached 250 million viewers in social media. Is the tiny municipality in Finnish Lapland really bidding for summer Olympics? Well, not exactly. Climate change poses a huge threat to the northern nature. The campaign is a parody and done in cooperation with Fridays for Future movement inspired by climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Raise awareness and change behavior in a fun way

Edutainment, informing your customers by entertainment, is a way to raise interest and create awareness. Educate tourists in subtle and fun ways while they are visiting your destination. Use entertaining quizzes and gamification to help your clients make sustainable choices and learn about the destination, its people and nature.

The short and simple messages can be signs about paper towel and water usage in bathrooms, about food waste at buffets, about switching off electronic appliances in hotel rooms, or about the specialties of local nature along a forest path. It costs nothing to formulate the messages in a way that it becomes fun – and memorable. Sokos Hotel Ilves in Tampere asks its guests to switch off the light when leaving the room with these nice words: This room is not afraid of the dark. Help us conserve energy.

Be real and transparent, avoid greenwashing

Giving customers a peek behind the scenes and showing how employees take care of the local environment and people, should definitely be part of sustainability communications.

Now that Circular Economy is becoming more known, showing the entire supply chain and lifecycle of products become essential information for the customers. Putting a face and a concrete action to what potential customers spend money on, can engage your audience and make the scales tip in your favor. Showing visuals of what you do, can humanize your brand in a way that no amount of advertising can ever do.

By being honest and genuine, showing what you actually do, you can avoid the trap of being accused of greenwashing. When customers and other stakeholders can see and read that your values are for real and that you have been committed to responsibility work in your operations for a long time, they will believe you.

Salla is again a great example of a destination telling their customers ‘what has actually been done’. On the website they also tell what they are still working on – like recycling biowaste. They are not perfect, yet.

Now that customers are connected, it is very dangerous to make statements that are not based on facts and reality. Greenwashing is easy to detect, and the word gets around fast.

Give your customers a possibility to engage and join the forces

Social media and the company website are great places to start engaging customers. Questions work well provoking the thought process. Use active terminology and involve clients personally in the sustainability work by showing how they can contribute. The Dutch company Instock asks on their website: Are you ready to rescue food? The text is formulated to make the recipient think and act.

Show your customers that they can be part of the solution and do good deeds while on holiday. Many hotels have included a voluntary fee for their accommodation nights: clients contribute a euro for a local charity for each night they stay at the hotel, and the company will match their contributions.

Some companies let employees take over the Instagram account. Finnair has done that for years already. Offering a sneak peek into the internal operations of a company is a great way to engage the audience. It increases authenticity and credibility. Letting your employees tell the story is much more believable than just buying advertising space.

Get recognized for your sustainability work – get a label

Most people find it too time consuming to do research about sustainability deeds before making purchasing decisions. There is an easy remedy for that: buying products with a sustainability label, e.g. Nordic Swan or Sustainable Travel Finland. Someone else, a trusted authority, has done all the research and the customer can trust that.

Conclusively, sustainability communications influences the attitudes and actions of customers. It helps companies target new groups of customers as well as increases awareness about the company’s products. Ultimately, it brings competitive advantage and improves the brand image. With these concrete tips, you can start telling the world about all the good you do!