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Using Communication to Build a Sustainability Community

Learn how University of Victoria’s sustainability centre uses communication to strengthen community, share resources and support sustainable practices.

At its best, communication is about making and sustaining connections. And it’s fun.

Communication can help create and define a sustainability community. Using a variety of tools, communication can share academic research, create energy around events, and increase sustainability awareness.

The Communiqué: Advancing Sustainability Through Communication

The Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation (CSSI), Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, has ambitious goals for its communication efforts but takes a simple approach. Rachel Goldsworthy, Coordinator at CSSI, explains that the centre uses communication to strengthen community, share resources and support sustainability’s integration into “studies, careers, and lives.”

CSSI publishes the Communiqué: a weekly, single-page e-newsletter that shares interesting and relevant sustainability information on local and global issues through “tiny teasers with links to videos, news, articles, websites, and events.”

The Communiqué tries to keep sustainability issues accessible, interesting, and fun. The content is diverse, wide-ranging, and occasionally quirky. “We’re not trying to supply all of our recipients with tailored information,” notes Rachel. “We’re engaging their interest; showing them that sustainability in all its guises is a sprawling, growing part of the world business and academic communities; and giving them some tools to include it in their own lives and work.” The newsletter goes to faculty, staff, and community members.

Stories about unique sustainability challenges and solutions receive the strongest response. “It’s the non-academic, more lifestyle-based stories that seem to make the greatest connections,” Rachel observes. “Unusual stories about bike paths, or trailer parks as social housing, and so on. People enjoy reading about the curious or the out of the ordinary.”

How to Break Through the Clutter

Today’s readers are saturated with information. The Communiqué’s simplicity is a strategic choice designed to improve readability, Rachel explains: “We keep the Communiqué at one page to increase the likelihood that people will glance at it.”

Rachel shares some additional tips for maximizing readership:

  • Make access easy: The entire newsletter is embedded in an email; when people click to open, the newsletter is visible in its entirety. “This reduces any worries about problems with images displaying or extra clicks to access content,” explains Rachel.

  • Shorten items: Brief articles make content scannable and digestible. Also, each newsletter can contain diverse news items.

  • Publish consistently: A fixed publication date helps people anticipate the newsletter. The Communiqué, for example, comes out on Thursdays. “There was no strategic reason for choosing Thursday in the first place,” recalls Rachel, “but we stuck to it for consistency, and now on Thursdays people ask when the newsletter will come out.”

Tips for Getting Started (or Revising Your Current Newsletter)

If you want to start or revamp a newsletter for your centre, consider these tips:

  1. Assess your target and goal. “Having a specific target audience and aim for the newsletter can help you filter through the huge amount of possible content,” notes Rachel.

  2. Assemble a content calendar. With a yearly calendar, you can identify theme weeks or days, such as International Water Day or International Women’s Day. This kind of focus helps manage content as well as general planning and workload.

  3. Develop metrics and tracking mechanisms in advance. Rachel recommends thinking initially about what metrics you’d ideally like to track, and then building tracking mechanisms — such as clicks per story — into your process right at the start.

Communication takes many forms. A targeted, regularly published newsletter may be minimalist, as at CSSI, or contain flashier formatting or templates. Regardless, with a few clearly defined objectives in place and a thoughtful approach, you’ll find new possibilities for sharing stories about your unique place in the sustainability landscape.

More Information

Visit the Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation or contact cssi@uvic.ca for more information on CSSI’s work or on the Communiqué.

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  • Chelsea Hicks-Webster

    Hi, I’m Chelsea. I have a Masters degree in Sustainability, where I studied ecosystem health. I'm also a Certified Life Coach. I used to be the Operations Manager for NBS, but now I just focus on my favourite part of that job – the writing! I also run a social enterprise, called Creating Me, dedicated to strengthening maternal and family well-being. I know first-hand how difficult it can be to balance career goals, impact, and one’s own well-being. When I’m not working on my own impact goals, I offer executive coaching and writing support to help researchers and change-makers grow their impact and well-being. (creatingme.ca/sustainability).

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