The Rio+20 Earth Summit is only weeks away. Not that you’d notice. Apart from specialist media it doesn’t seem to have registered with anyone. Politician aren’t talking about it, Cameron is unlikely to go, business isn’t discussing it and the media are simply ignoring it. So as communicators how are we going to break through? How are we going to get readers, consumers, citizens to engage and to realise this is, by far, the most important event of 2012. An event that should aim to shape the future of our very planet and our lives upon it.
From a UK perspective this isn’t going to be easy. As I’ve mentioned, Cameron isn’t going, immediately sending the clear signal – this isn’t important. At the same time competition for our attention is great. What with the travails of the coalition, the forth coming Olympics, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, austerity and the continued trouble in Greece, and Syria. The media agenda is crowded and busy. Added to that the marketing space is fully taken up with business communications aimed at getting brands in front of people and making sales (mostly still through offers and discounts).
It would be difficult to find anyone who doesn’t think 2011 has been challenging for sustainability. The global economy is at best fragile, hugely unstable and we teeter on the brink of another global recession. In Europe, not only is the Euro under strain, the whole European project is being called into question. And in the UK our government has embarked on a seeming all out assault on the environment, with the forests debacle, the ripping up of planning laws and most recently their attempts to undermine the central wildlife and habitat protection measures. One glimmer of hope was the climate talks in Durban. But even that is all about jam tomorrow, with promises and fine talk. But we all know the action needed will be a lot harder to deliver.
2012 looks as if it will be more of the same. The economy will continue to struggle and the big sustainability moment of the year – the Rio+20 Earth Summit – already looks like it will be a non-event. More worrying is that our current crop of politicians don’t seem to be up to the task. All spouting rhetoric essentially wanting to get back to “business as usual”, and only disagreeing on the tactics.
In February 2010 the leading Sustainable Business and CSR thinker, Fabian Pattburg, wrote a blog entitled, Facebook – A useful Sustainability and CSR platform? In it he concluded that Facebook wasn’t a great platform for sustainability.
February 2010. In the world of social media that’s a lifetime ago. Or even two. So I want to suggest that in 2012 Facebook will become the central place for communications, information sharing and discussion about sustainability. And that will be true for NGO’s, businesses, the media and journalist. In fact anyone who is interested in the issues and wants to further their impact and profile. So if you’ve not got a presence on Facebook you’d better get one; and fast.
It’s been a good couple of weeks for communicators who happen to be fans of The Archers on BBC Radio 4. Hasn’t the on-going story line of Pat and Tony Archers’ business falling off the cliff and almost taking Tom’s – their son – sausage business with it been fascinating?
For those of you who are not quite up to speed on this here is a short résumé. Thanks to Clarrie Grundy returning to work in the dairy too soon after an illness, some of Pat and Tony’s customers picked up an e-coli infection from eating Bridge Farm yoghurt. Two children ended up seriously ill in hospital. It was big news. Sales dropped, customers deserted them and supermarket contracts were cancelled. The Bridge Farm brand became toxic, and infected their veg business and Tom’s sausages.
I found myself reading the latest report from the St Paul’s Institute, Value and Values: Perception of Ethics in the City Today. It has attracted some media coverage, much more than it probably expected. But I think for the wrong reasons. We all know the media thrive on controversy. So the controversy surrounding the handling of the Occupy LSX encampment on the steps of the cathedral has provided them with a great deal of fodder to pontificate, to condemn, to speculate, to completely misunderstand, and to feed upon. And it was in this context that the report (publication of which was delayed for a couple of weeks) landed.
What a week it’s been. From a story that has bubbled around for a couple of year and stayed in the realms of politicians and celebrities to an explosion of industry rocking proportions. At the end of which the 168 year old title which was the News of the World is closed. And hasn’t it been exciting with so much of the drama being played out on Twitter. From tracking the news as it broke – even before it broke – to seeing the speed and impact of the campaigns against advertisers as they started, gained traction and had impact within a matter of hours. But to claim it was “Twitter what won it”, as so many have, over plays its role and in a small way shows that while Twitter is a serious news tool, it is also ephemeral and prone to over blown hyperbole.
First of all a confession. I’ve broken one of my own golden rules. When I started this blog in 2010 I boldly set out what I thought were the principles of good blogging for business. One was to keep your blog up to date by making regular entries. I had in mind at least once a week, if not more. So what happened in February? I failed to take my own advice and in a very busy month this blog slipped off the agenda. An easy mistake, but one we should be seeking to avoid. Well life is going to remain busy for a while so let’s see how I get on.
I’m returning to the issues of the ICT sector and its place in the sustainability debate with this blog. Increasingly we are all falling in love with our laptops, phones, tablets and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. While much of the bright uplands of a sustainable future are based upon a vision of a hi-tech world replacing things such as the need to constantly travel. And while the dream of a paperless office may still be a distant one that networked, cloud computing world in which business in conducted in an efficient, “speed of light” way, involving less resources, is still dangled tantalisingly in front of us.
A new decade has begun. The second of the 21st century and with this new decade is a chance to think ahead and ponder on the sustainability challenges to come. OK confession time. I’m not going to look ahead a whole decade. I’d venture far too far into the realms of fiction if I did. But I will take a look at 2011 and suggest some of the challenges for CSR and sustainability communicators in the year to come.
At the beginning of any year I often ask myself, “Am I optimistic or pessimistic about the year ahead?” To be honest this year I’m neither, and both. Sort of opti-pessimistic I suppose. I think there are some very exciting and useful opportunities to get our messages across in 2011 and to deliver some real change in the way we do business, the way we consume and even in the way we live our lives.