“Behind sustainable choices is not the actual sustainability of the company, organization, or brand, but the sustainability experience,” writes Timo Järvinen, CEO of the Finnish empathy analytics company NayaDaya Inc.
If we split the core of sustainability, in addition to the ecological, social, and economical consequences of our actions, we will find something that has a decisive impact on people’s behavior, business success, and sustainable development.
This other aspect of sustainability is experience. Sustainability is an increasingly important part of the customer and employee experience. Customers and employees appraise the sustainability of companies, organizations, and brands in relation to their own values. Appraisals lead to subjective meanings and emotions – thus creating an emotional experience of sustainability.
People respond to their own experiences not to sustainable actions
Emotional experiences have a decisive impact on behavior – as do sustainability experiences. We have seen this especially recently. Emotions make us ignite, participate, and commit to things that represent the world we believe in. The emotions within the experiences of sustainability can also cause the opposite: avoidance, resistance, and even aggressive behavior.
From the point of view of companies and organizations, the effects of sustainability experiences are at best seen as traction and retention, or even as a competitive edge. At worst, they can cause loss of customers and employees.
If a company, organization, or brand wants to succeed and be a part of change toward a better world, sustainability experiences are critical to the success of its mission. We must accept that, for example, behind sustainable consumer choices is not product sustainability but rather consumer sustainability experience.
People are not able to react to anything other than the experiences produced by their own judgment.
How do customers and employees experience sustainability?
A company or an organization needs to identify the essential parts of its sustainability to its customers and employees. It is beneficial to find out how elements of the sustainability experience affect behavior. By strengthening engaging elements and fixing or transforming the causes of stagnation, avoidance, and resistance, people are involved – this way it’s possible to create value for customers and employees, strengthen loyalty, and promote a sustainable, profitable growth.
Sustainability must be built, and the sustainability experience managed responsibly. However, this self-evident idea is not so self-evident after all. As people do not react to sustainable actions but rather to their sustainability experiences, it is possible to influence their experiences and emotions in ways that are not responsible but aim only to create images.
Recognition of authenticity contributes to healthy development. Companies, organizations, and brands that embrace sustainability as a key guideline and a part of their DNA implement these principles in all their operations and communications. When deeds and words meet each other and people’s values, the result is hope for the better, trust, change, and ultimately, success.
Sustainability is not pleasing
Sustainability is the way to a better future and competitive edge, but it is often full of curves and pitfalls. We must accept that sustainable actions do not always evoke positive, engaging emotions. It is not sustainable to always do and say what people wish and want to hear.
The consequences of acts of sustainability can be contradictory. Sometimes they mean cutting personal interests, which causes negative reactions. Sometimes the public and social media deal with events in ways that don’t do justice to real efforts.
In all circumstances, it is helpful to identify the customer and employee experiences and reactions. Collective empathy and data are needed to identify emotions as well as their root causes and consequences. The answers are not found on social media, where the loudest voice is often held by a relatively small number of people.
Communication is needed to manage sustainability experiences – not just to evoke images but to portray boldly and uncompromisingly the reality. From time to time, we all need to be steered in the right direction. Sometimes we must give up our own interests here and now so that all people, including future generations, will have hope.
The power of compassion should be better harnessed to engage and involve customers and employees.
The author of the blog post is Timo Järvinen, CEO of the Finnish empathy analytics company NayaDaya Inc.