The Realist's Perspective on Sustainability in Communication

Erin and I were invited to present at the AIGA Shift event here in Portland on May 25th (the slides are above). With an overall subject of “sustainability,” we sat down and thought about our own actions and how we’re being sustainable. Are we being sustainable? We’re not printing thousands of brochures, so we’re good, right?

Well, not really. Erin did a bit of internet sleuthing and came up with some big numbers on power consumption from the computers that create online content, hosting facilities that route and contain the content, and the computers that consume the content. Unfortunately, a majority of the electricity used to power these devices is created using fossil fuels. And while we’re innovating our way to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, are we simply trying to innovate our way out of the problems that innovations over the last couple hundred years have put us in? Instead of replacing our existing power sources with new power sources so we can keep on consuming, maybe we need to think about a fundamental culture shift: not what we’re going to do with all this energy, but why we need all this energy.

This has led us to consider the way we, as professionals in the interactive industry, communicate. At its core, the more efficient our communication, the more sustainable it is. Here’s what we try to do to be more efficient:

Understand the audience beyond demographics and sit down and have a conversation with them. Engage where they are and realize why they’ll want to engage.

Talk to fewer people, but communicate to the people that matter.

Act as a champion for communication that matters. You are the advocate to create meaningful communication.

If we, as the leaders of communication, aren’t rising to these challenges, we’re simply creating more waste: wasting time, energy, and our opportunity to use communication that means something to people.

UPDATE: AIGA captured a bit of our presentation on video (thanks!).

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