Role: Senior Content Designer
Project: Sustainability / Earth Day Campaign
My team on Marketplace focuses on building experiences that enable the buying and selling of clothing, shoes and accessories (in short thrifting) – with a large emphasis on secondhand inventory. We’ve discovered over time that a lot of people buy clothing secondhand because it’s sustainable.
This year my team took on sustainability as a dedicated workstream. As someone who had never written for sustainability I was nervous, but ready to learn something new. Writing in the sustainability space is no easy task. Sustainability is both beloved and debated. For those who believe in it, they hold companies who make sustainability claims to extremely high standards. Greenwashing is common nomenclature among consumers. For those who debate the benefit of sustainability or the existence of climate change, they can have a negative reaction to sustainability content. This sets the stage for the ultimate content design challenge.
I’ve taken what I’ve learned and put it together in bite-sized tips for anyone else who finds themselves writing about sustainability.
1. AVOID GREENWASHING
Greenwashing is when companies mislead or deceive their consumers about sustainability claims. There’s a long track record of companies who have been accused of greenwashing. As the writer, we’re responsible for ensuring content is authentic and makes credible claims around sustainability. It’s our job to hold the line if it feels like the product is stepping into greenwashing territory. It also means that our content is highly scrutinized. Our research tells us Marketplace shoppers expect messaging to go hand-in-hand with real company action.
- Run your content through research before anything goes live. Having strong qualitative research will ensure content feels authentic and future-proof any potential risks. Your researcher will be your most valuable partner.
- Share your content early and often to get as much feedback as possible. Take advantage of any sustainability experts within your company to get their take.
- Don’t be afraid to call out when what you’re working on feels like greenwashing. It’s not our job to write content that construes the sense of sustainability when it isn’t there.
- Sustainability claims must be accurate. Ask lots of questions, pressure test calculations, and double check everything. You’ll need to become a subject matter expert.
2. CREATE PARTNERSHIPS, NOT BURDENS
Choosing to be sustainable and take meaningful action in your life is real work. It’s easy to unknowingly create experiences where the onus to be sustainable is put on the shopper. But if we frame the work of making better choices like a group project, then it no longer feels like a burden but a partnership. This sets the foundation for a healthy and trusting relationship between the consumer and the company.
Our research shows that people expect corporate responsibility. Young adults especially expect Facebook to make meaningful contributions – evidence that the partnership model is especially important, as people expect corporations to be part of the solution.
The partnership model can also help people realize the scale of impact. Individual action may not feel motivating because it’s hard to conceptualize the true impact a single person can make (think of turning off your lights when you leave). But when people and corporations take action together, the impact can be greater and thus the scale of impact will feel much more real.
- Write in the first person to invoke feelings of partnership. “Together we can make a difference” instead of “You can make a difference”. Avoid using second person in calls to action.
- Consider the partnership model when ideating with your team. For example, can your company financially contribute to a sustainability program you’re building? Can they match donations? In our research, designs where Facebook contributed to sustainability programs were overwhelmingly well-received over programs where only users voluntarily contributed. Push your team or company to create experiences where you contribute to the solution.
3. INTENTIONALLY PACE THE DETAIL IN YOUR CONTENT
Keeping content generalized seems to work best in initial sustainability messaging. In research content that speaks in relatable and easy to understand terms resonate best when first introducing the concept.
But when sustainability experiences are more complex and detailed – long form content can be very effective in helping shoppers feel confident that they understand what’s happening. Intentionally pacing the level of detail in your content in the right parts of the experience is key.
- Generally speaking, keeping content high level at first and increasing the scope of detail later in the experience, seems to work best.
- When my team tested our Marketplace Earth Day campaign in research, the most generalized messaging that talked about environmental impacts outperformed all other messaging themes. This may be in part because our audience is well educated on sustainability topics (which may be true for many other products).
- But that finding doesn’t mean that details and statistics aren’t important. Our research validated that combining specific sustainability numbers with relatable examples and context further into the experience are important. There’s real risk when we don’t communicate sustainability right and users can be easily confused.
4. EVERYDAY + RELATABLE + POSITIVE
We’re not all scientists. And we’re not all experts in all things sustainability. Content that pulls from common relatable concepts, resonates best when talking about sustainability. So keeping things simple and easy to understand will set you up for success – a tenant all content designers follow at Meta.
But it’s also important in the context of sustainability that we keep it positive and invoke feel-good emotions. Research has shown this improves the overall experience and willingness to engage.
- It can be helpful to relate sustainability claims to concepts people generally understand. When we tested different sustainability messaging, we found claims around water preservation resonated better than claims around carbon emissions or saving manufacturing resources. Water preservation was the most relatable experience and participants pulled from childhood memories of droughts and needing to limit how many times they watered their yard.
- Word choice is also really important when we think about the positive emotions we want to invoke with sustainability. We’ve seen terms like “recycle”, “landfills” or “second hand” – just don’t perform as well with users, likely because these are words with negative connotations. It’s best to avoid words that draw out negative associations.
- Playful content has not tested well, further supporting that clear, simple and straightforward is best.
As the importance of sustainability continues to gain momentum, it’s every UXers responsibility to create high quality and factual sustainability experiences for users. I hope my tips help you set your content and product up for success!
You can also view my case study in the Meta Content Design Facebook group.