Communicating Sustainability Standards

How can we talk about sustainability standards in a clear, consistent and compelling language?

It may seem like a strange question to ask, but in 2009 there was a problem. The Pacific Institute would go to meetings with policy makers, funders and think tanks and find that the people they were talking to had not realised that sustainability standards were relevant to them. They all assumed they were important to someone else. And the Pacific Institute found it wasn’t just themselves that were experiencing this difficulty. The absence of a consistent framework to talk about what sustainability standards are, how they work, and how they can be used as tools in quite different contexts was holding back their potential to effect change.

And so the Pacific Institute embarked on a multi-year, multi-stakeholder project to understand the communication problem and craft solutions. By 2012 the bulk of the work was complete.  One key outcome was the choice of the term ‘sustainability standards’ to describe – well – sustainability standards!

The remaining challenge was how to present the project results in a way that could maximise their value for the whole sustainability standards community.  That was when the Pacific Institute asked OneWorldStandards to help. In discussion with OneWorldStandards it was agreed that rather than produce and circulate yet another dry report, the project’s work would be presented as two websites.  One site would present the full technical findings of the project.  A second site would demonstrate as simply as possible how these technical findings could be used to improve communication.

OneWorldStandards worked closely with the Pacific Institute’s collaborators to pull together three years of project work, make sense of it, and present it in a simple, appealing way.  OneWorldStandards enlisted On:Subject to provide communications expertise, and contracted illustrators and voice-over artists to create a set of publicly accessible slide presentations of the project results. The final set of slides has been downloaded more than 3,000 times and continues to influence the way the sustainability standards community communicates its work.

  • What people say about us

    "Matthew understands the nature and complexity of our sector whilst bringing the view from the standards world. I appreciated the dialogue: I expressed what I think I need and Matthew figured it out and made it better. I learned a lot in the process, and the findings have really helped us to gain clarity on the way forward." – Jian-hua Meng, WWF