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  • Writer's pictureLiisa Siippainen

5 practical tips to improve sustainability communication

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

In this post I will offer 5 tips to improve sustainability communication on your website. This post is based on research I conducted recently on Sustainable Travel Finland certified businesses as part of my bachelor's thesis.

Two-part simplified image of a tree. Top half shows the trees stem and foliage on yellow background, the bottom shows the trees routes on green background
Image created in Canva

Why should I improve my sustainability communication?

Many businesses over the last 3 years have worked hard to qualify for Visit Finland's Sustainable Travel Finland (STF) label. And there is good reason. With the STF label comes a promise: more visibility on Visit Finland's shortlist, resulting in increased competitiveness. While this is true, there is a caveat: everyone wants the STF label and, with Finland being a forerunner in sustainable travel, many businesses are - or will soon be - eligible. Just in the last six months, the number of businesses certified with the STF label has increased by over 30% (from 230 in early February to 303 at the end of July). As we celebrate Finland getting closer to reaching its goal of becoming the number one sustainable travel destination, displaying certificates is not enough.

How can I improve sustainability communication on my website?

In the past two weeks I have analysed the websites of 49 companies certified with the STF label. Below is a list of typical statements found on most websites' sustainability pages:

  • We aim to reduce water usage

  • We recycle waste and encourage our customers to recycle as well

  • We provide/recommend use of refillable water bottles

  • Our electricity comes from renewable resources and we have reduced our electricity usage to a minimum

  • We have limited/eliminated paper by digitalising

  • We use ecologically safe cleaning agents

  • We do not change towels and sheets daily (unless on guests' request)

  • We collaborate with other businesses to strengthen the local economy

  • We aim to inform customers about sustainable practices

While all of the above efforts are great, they read like instructions aimed at businesses for acquiring the STF label not information targeted to your customers. If this is what the sustainability page of your website looks like right now - don't worry! Through my analysis I have created a list of common mistakes and collected examples of businesses that have mastered the art. The aim of the following tips is to aid businesses struggling to get sustainability communication right, to highlight the level of expertise that already exists among Finnish businesses, and to inspire these two groups to collaborate.

1 - Get your core business story right…

Your core business story should be the basis of all communication on your website. I have noticed that many businesses seem to have an interesting story but they never actually put it into words on their website. It doesn't even have to be long. Take a look at the core business story of Hullu Poro in Levi. It's one paragraph at the bottom of the page and takes less than one minute to read. Yet, after reading it your image of the company changes. You are not simply going to visit a hotel in Lapland, you are now excited to meet either Hullu Poro (the crazy blue reindeer who parties all night long) or Taivaanvalkeat (the calm white reindeer who will comfort you).

I won't expand on this topic further since I already covered it in a blog post last week. If you are interested you can read it here.

2 - …and stick with it!

Your core business story is the DNA of your business - it should be seen all over your website. Take an example from Hiisi Homes. They sell short- and medium-term accommodation offering the same freedom that you would have at home. In other words, they provide a "home away from home". The theme of home is reiterated throughout the website. One example is the term "homie" used to refer to both employees and guests, thereby creating a club or family guests get to be part of when booking their services. The language of the website is consistently casual and familiar. In addition, they employ humour in their musical marketing videos starring the employees.

While any of these methods could seem cheesy or even out of place on their own, together they create a unique identity that perfectly suits the business.

3 - Introduce characters

Especially in small businesses, it is the people that give the company its character. Introduce yourself and your team so your customers have someone they can relate to. This can be relatively detailed with an image and a bit about your background or it can be just a single sentence. What is important is that the information you give is personal and specific to you or the person you are introducing. Sallatunturin Tuvat is a great example of this. They manage to introduce each staff member with only 2-3 sentences and yet the information is specific enough for visitors to begin to feel a connection to the company and its employees.

4 - Avoid buzzwords: root sustainability issues in your core business story

While it is important to show details and empirical evidence of your efforts, sprinkling your website with buzzwords or bombarding your audience with too much detailed information might alienate both the customers who do not prioritise sustainability and those who do. Keep the jargon for your sustainability page where those who are interested can find it. On your home page bring up sustainability issues by talking about the value it adds to your customers' experience.

Ruska Laukka demonstrates this in a great way: the first paragraph on the website states that the company's purpose is "empowering community" and their focus is on "welfare of animals and people". There is no mention of sustainability, yet these issues do fall under sustainable practices. This works so well on Ruska Laukka's website because the same themes are repeated throughout. Instead of using buzzwords or making empty promises, they deliver on their claims by producing evidence on later pages.

Iloranta is another good example of using personal language over jargon. They advertise "uncomplicated" and "local" rather than sustainable food. The added value is implied; the customer gets traditional Finnish family cooking - it just happens to be sustainable. They immediately back up their claim by listing the origin of some of their key ingredients.

5 - Be consistent

Once you have made sustainability claims specific to your business, make sure you are consistent. Under no circumstances should there be evidence contradicting your claim. For example, if you claim your aim is to inform or educate customers about sustainability, there needs to be proof of this on your website. Examples could be the activities you are offering (e.g. teaching customers about local culture on guided hikes) or blog articles.

The Serlachius Museums are exemplary at consistent messaging. On their sustainability page they claim to encourage users to use public transport. They openly recognise the limit of their reach; as a private company in a rural area they do not have the power to improve the public transportation network. Instead, they introduced a solution that was within their scope: providing a shuttle bus from the nearby localities Tampere and Mänttä. Their encouragement continues on their "How to reach us" page where directions using public transport and bicycles are listed first before giving instructions for arriving by car.

In a nutshell

Make it personal! Words like authentic, sustainable, and responsible have lost virtually all meaning by now. They are buzzwords and, in my experience, mean nothing to customers on their own. It is important to have your bases covered: display your certificates and list all the boring information on your sustainability page. However, if you claim to be sustainable it should be seen throughout your website, and the way to communicate it without taking away from your customers' experience is to utilise your core story. Each fact you list on your website anywhere but your sustainability page should be directly connected to your core business and your story.

What's your opinion?

I would love to hear what you thought of my findings. This list is based on my own experience and the background research I did for my thesis. Do you agree or disagree with any of these points? Did you find them helpful? Tell me in the comments below!


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