To communicate sustainability to a company you need to know how to find the right words. And it is not easy: because we are in the middle of a cultural revolution that has the environment, health and ethics at its center

For some years now the term “sustainability” has no longer been in Google's top trends. It was bound to happen that it would lose its meaning. Or rather, that he had hired too many and different. For almost twenty years, using it was enough to make products, services and clothing more desirable. But now, faced with the progressive affirmation of the phenomenon of greenwashing, it is necessary to find different ways to tell it.

Read also: How to avoid greenwashing in brand communications

And it is no small challenge because, starting from a vision centered on ecological aspects, sustainability has now landed on a more global meaning, which also embraces the economic and social dimension, acquiring a more transversal, inclusive and therefore also ethical dimension.

Ethics in communications

Ethics has always been a reflection on human action and the possibility of orienting it towards good, tells us Mariagrazia Villa, journalist, copywriter, professor of Ethics and Media at the Salesian University Institute in Venice. “But a communication can be said to be ethical not so much either because of its content, but because of the way it is conducted. If, in other words, you consider key words such as Recognition, Respect, Reciprocity, Responsibility and Relationship, the so-called five Rs, become fundamental in a moment in which the environment and health have become – in the eyes of all – closely linked to each other.

Communicating sustainability as company culture

Until a few years ago, in fact, environmental issues – deforestation, desertification, extinctions, ozone depletion – were niche, light years away from our daily life.

“The pandemic”, says Andrea Margaritelli, brand manager of Listone Giordano, “is making us make individual sacrifices for a collective purpose. The same thing will happen in the environmental sector: individual sacrifices in favor of a common and future good. In this context, sustainability takes on a new meaning and leaves behind the green word to be included in the catalogs”. A real revolution, not industrial or technological – already underway – but cultural. "It is no coincidence that in Listone Giordano we speak of a cultural factory’, a business system in which sustainability is an important part but which only makes sense if placed in relation to a far-sighted strategy, which focuses on the good of the community.

Communicating sustaimability as a manifesto

To strengthen the way of communicating our broad and strategic environmental commitment, two years ago we launched Kartell loves the Planet, an industrial manifesto that summarizes our values, our steps and our experience in creating innovation and new products. This path includes the use and research of new eco-friendly materials ranging from recycled to bio, from wood to regenerated fibers up to a new type of polycarbonate deriving in part from plant material, says Lorenza Luti, Kartell marketing director.

Read also: Self-generating design: a sustainable alternative?

“It is our vocation, to work simultaneously with the creativity of products without ever abandoning experimentation”; Lorenza Luti continues. “New materials are being studied that will allow us to create sustainable products with surprising characteristics. In the long term, we will continue to work to protect the environment throughout the entire production process chain. Our map refers to the achievement of the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development approved by the General Council of the United Nations, for people and the planet”.

“To better communicate the strength of our values, especially through digital media, concludes Luti, “our portal and all social channels have become a real platform for empathic relationships with our customers all over the world, intended not only as a final audience but also architects and designers.

Communicating sustainability to future generations

Many market researches say it, a growing percentage of Millennials and iGen (Generation Z) consider the health of the planet and personal well-being as a fundamental aspect of purchasing choices. Product quality and ethics must create a virtuous system with online purchasing methods and inspirational communication that speaks at the same time about values: “The new generations show a strong sensitivity towards the issue: they want to know how products are manufactured, what are the production and marketing logics”, says Claudio Feltrin, president and CEO of Arper. “Until a few years ago, in our sector, aesthetics was the main factor in choosing a product. Today, however, it is one of the components and plays it on a par with other values. Therefore, issues such as the sustainable budget, social impact and the transition to Benefit Corporation are crucial for the future of companies and communication issues”.

Read + see also: Claudio Feltrin on sustainable production in the furniture sector

Reducing a company's environmental impact is a long and meticulous job: “Ambitious visions and actions, organizational changes and cultural changes are the fundamental conditions for the evolution of a company that sees in the sustainability of processes, production and collections a concrete and daily commitment” concludes Feltrin.

Communicating sustainability as a corporate mission

Of course, a communication that respects the public must be based on facts.

This is the purpose of the official system and product certifications, which confirm the sustainability of the production chains and the action to contain the environmental impact in all business sectors.

And this is the effort to become a Benefit Company, integrating into its corporate purpose, in addition to profit, the aim of having a positive impact on society (territories and people) and on the biosphere.

Read also: What are B-Corps and why they can change the world

Communicating sustainability as a circular economy approach

Pieces of Venice is indeed a benefit company (and a Compasso d'Oro 2020 winner for Social Design). The company upcycles recycled materials from the Venice lagoon, transforming them into design objects. “For our creations we use pieces of the city, not just wood”, explains Luciano Marson, co-founder. “In the future we would like to work with Murano glass, with furnaces that produce mosaics; retrieve the strings of musical instruments and cards from the Fenice scores, samples and scraps from fabric producers”.

When the business model is born to be circular, communication goes without saying. And it's effortlessly effective. “Our products do not have a name but are identified by an address in the city, the place from which the recovered materials derive. Our system of values is an immediate way of communicating and not losing the cultural identity of places and knowledge”.

Communicating sustainability as short supply chain

“Our company is aware that the environmental issue must be considered in a virtuous and circular system”, says Laura Allievi, communication manager at Porada. “The main material we work with, wood, comes from certified forests and the purchase, since 2011, of forest areas in Burgundy, France, has also moved in this light. The Porada supply chain thus becomes shorter and shorter, allowing the direct use of wood from the maintenance cuts imposed by the French authorities. But that's not all, since 2012 the company has invested in clean energy, creating a photovoltaic system that fully meets the company's electricity needs; even the heating is provided entirely by the combustion of processing waste, thus making Porada totally independent from an energy point of view.

Last but not least, the suppliers and contractors are Italian, more precisely ‘made in Brianza’, this means short transport of materials and reduced emissions, as well as an ethical attachment to the territory and its excellence. And the products, our accessories, have always been created to last and be a long-term investment. In an era of low cost, disposable products, Porada promotes a diametrically opposite type of product and communication”.

“Communicating attention to the planet is important”, concludes Laura Allievi, “but always substantiating the credibility of what we say; we prefer to ‘do’, work daily for future generations, protecting our collaborators, all hired and with fair wages. Man and Environment are the binomial on which we will focus our attention”.

Communicating sustainability as quality and durability

Quality and durability are instead the mantras of many interior design brands, which consider them essential for furnishings that are to be defined as sustainable. On the product front, Zanotta has always invested in the factors that determine long life, as well as a new integrated approach to sustainable development that embraces all company choices and strategies: every design, production and distribution activity is conducted in respect of the environment”, says Giuliano Mosconi, president and CEO.

Read + watch also: Giuliano Mosconi on the future of the office

The company has embarked on a path of research and experimentation of new recycled and compostable materials that has led to a first important step towards eco-design with the Sacco Goes Green armchair: a special and numbered edition, 100% green made with biomaterials” Continues Mosconi. "The polystyrene balls of the original design padding have been replaced with a bioplastic obtained from sugar cane. The casing is made with a regenerated nylon thread, entirely obtained from fishing nets collected from the seabed, fabric scraps and industrial polymers that are transformed into new thread that can be regenerated endlessly without using other natural resources”.

Read also: Sacco Goes Green

Production and process themes that become communication drivers to present a re-edition of one of the most famous pieces of Italian design; a nice way to talk to the younger generation of customers too.


Top: Listone Giordano's Natural Genius / Resonating Trees project. Made inside the Umbrian forest of Piegaro, managed by the Margaritelli family, the multisensory sound installation by the sound artist Federico Ortica, which captures the sound of plants through special transducers applied on the trunks, received the Innovation Awards Award (read here).