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  • Writer's pictureLiisa Siippainen

Improve sustainability communication through storytelling

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Case: Hawkhill Cottage Resort


In this blog post I will examine Hawkhill Cottage Resort and demonstrate how tourism businesses can communicate sustainability through storytelling utilising their core business story.

Image of a forest lake with a green canoe tethered at shore
Photo by SaiKrishna Saketh Yellapragada on Unsplash

Introducing Hawkhill Cottage Resort

Hawkhill Cottage Resort is a family owned business located in Nuuksio National Park. They sell the traditional Finnish cabin holiday experience with a modern luxury twist. The exterior of the cabins is built from kelo wood logs (pine deadwood) which blend perfectly with the natural environment of the national park. The log walls are also visible in the interior and beautifully integrated in the minimalist Nordic design. Yet, the cabins provide all modern conveniences.

In addition to the cabins, the business also has a multifunctional restaurant and event space (Korpela Laavu) and offers a selection of workshops and activities.

Importance of a core business story

Developing your core story can also help you develop your business strategy. The four primary elements of a story are: a message - what it is you are trying to say; conflict - a challenge to be overcome; characters - someone for your audience to relate to; and a plot - the order of events. Loosely, these elements can be equated to the following elements of your business strategy: the USP - the story's core message; the mission statement - the conflict; and the business owners or other stakeholders - the main characters. The plot is what ties everything together.

The reason why stories are so important in business and in sustainability communication is that they connect with people on an emotional level. In other words, by sharing your story you can connect to potential customers in a way that makes them feel like they know you and gets them personally invested in your business.

Approaching sustainability communication through storytelling

Hawkhill's core story centres around the theme of family. On their website, we get to know the business' history and learn that the current owners grew up with Nuuksio National Park as their playground/back yard. Not only does this short anecdote give visitors something they can relate to, it also explains the owners' personal investment in the conservation of the park. As a result, the claim that Hawkhill is a tool to fight climate change gains greater validity among their target audience.

Sustainability communication through storytelling at Hawkhill Cottage Resort: two examples

Sustainable building materials: a conscious choice but also a family legacy

The theme of family can be seen throughout Hawkhill's website: when the wood plank cabins - which were built by the grandfather (first generation business owner) - needed to be replaced, the current (third) generation sought advice from their father (the second generation). "If you want to build it properly, build it from kelo" was the answer they got and so the current style of cottages came to be.

While there was an emotional component, building with kelo wood was also an environmental choice. Trees, as a result of photosynthesis, store carbon. If wood is used for building rather than burning they will continue to keep carbon out of the atmosphere. But kelo is special in another way. Since the logs are sourced from dead wood, no healthy living trees are being removed from the forest. And while these logs are extremely popular and unlikely to end up in a fire pit any time soon - they are also an expensive building material and were a steep investment for the company. This was a conscious choice the owners made to fulfil their pledge to construct buildings that would stand for a hundred years.

In this case the company invested in a material that is 1) part of their family history and core story 2) sustainable and 3) creates added value for customers through the unique beauty it lends the cabins.

Sustainability, similarly to family, is as much about giving as it is about receiving

As mentioned in the introduction, Hawkhill offers a number of workshops. In one example, guests are brought to the nearby bog and taught about its qualities as a carbon sink and its endangerment through invasive species. Rather than passively learning about the bog, customers are given the opportunity to lend a hand - in the family spirit of sharing the workload - and help remove alien species from the local environment.

While it may seem counterintuitive to put holiday guests to work, there are studies which suggest that participation in selfless action can result in a more meaningful experience for travellers. Moreover, this type of experience has the potential to affect the customer in a way that endures beyond their holiday. After all, sustainability communication only has value if it has an impact on its intended audience and their choices.

In summary: what can you learn from Hawkhill's sustainability communication?

By connecting sustainable actions to your business' core story, you can reach your target customer on an emotional level. Primal universal themes like family will resonate with people whether or not they are interested in sustainability. Additionally, building your customer relationships on an emotional foundation opens up opportunities for you to educate them and to create more memorable experiences.

Conclusion

If you are the owner of a small business, the thought of communicating your sustainability efforts may seem daunting. It is important to remember that honest communication is better than no communication at all. Start by sharing little things on your social media platforms - those actions which you believe are trivial. I was inspired by Hawkhill's website to write this post - who knows whom you might inspire with yours.

Sources and further reading:

Fog, K. Budtz, C. Munch, P. & Blanchette, S. 2010. Storytelling: branding in practice 2nd Ed. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer-Verlag

Smith, M. K. & Diekman, A. 2017. Tourism and wellbeing. Annals of Tourism Research 66 (2017) 1-13 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2017.05.006


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