Sustainable consumption—including effective communication about this topic—is just emerging as a field in North America.

This communications section of the toolkit covers the current state of knowledge in sustainable consumption communications. Researchers have uncovered broad frames to help you develop messaging specifically geared toward your community, along with common pitfalls you may face in communicating about sustainable consumption. At the same time, we lack formal research that points to specific language, narrative frames, and targeted messaging that has proven to be effective, so advice on specific wording is not included in this iteration of the toolkit.

Framing versus messaging

Cognitive frames are themes that connect the dots across issues and tap deeply held social values. ‘Frames’ are distinct from ‘messaging’ as ‘messaging’ goes into greater detail on issue specifics and is crafted for specific audiences.

For example, a campaign to protect a history library in Troy, Michigan turned the corner when library proponents stopped defending the importance of taxation as a way to fund the library and instead, talked about cutting library funding as equivalent to the burning of books which taps deeply held values around the importance of access to information.

Source: Sustainable Production and Consumption Framing Research Summary, page 4, 2015

Research completed in 2015 by Cara Pike, of Social Capital Strategies, provides the foundation for the recommendations below. This document describes the state of knowledge in Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) framing and messaging, identifies challenges and pitfalls in communicating about SCP, and provides guidance on the high level framing that can be used to develop SCP messaging. To dig deeper into Pike’s research download a complete copy of her white paper, Sustainable Production and Consumption Framing Research Summary.

Pike’s next phase of research will include advice for specific language to use in sustainable consumption framing and messaging. In the meantime, we invite sustainability directors to join USDN’s Sustainable Consumption User Group and share your experiences to grow the body of practical knowledge around sustainable consumption communications with colleagues, policy makers, and the general public.