Insight—how we can tap into this sustainable business superpower.

  • 6 days ago

Here at Enviral, we’ve been getting a little introspective recently.

Actually, when I say a little, I really mean a lot. We’ve certified B Corp, created some truly awesome initiatives internally in our company, all the while delivering some stand-out national sustainability campaigns. And we can say, proudly, that we’ve done all of this by staying true to our mission; a mission to work only to communicate genuine social and environmental messages for clients. 

However, all of this, as you can imagine, can be all-encompassing for our team—a super busy Enviral bubble of activity. Escaping the bubble is not easy; the environmental impact space is an all-consuming place to be too, and with our news feed algorithms reinforcing our current belief systems it’s all too easy to end up with an extremely narrow frame of reference these days. Our daily challenge is to acknowledge the mammoth of the climate emergency on the horizon, and bring our focus back to people living here and now, today, to create communications that resonate within hearts and minds. So as a team, we’re learning it takes a serious, and I mean SERIOUS concerted effort, to make time tune into the wider world beyond our bubble.


We know this is important for the work we do for clients because we know it’s all too easy for brands, especially in the relative infancy of business for purpose, to resort to sustainability rhetoric. Because to be ignorant and not acknowledge your impact on people and the planet is, let’s be real, pretty much a non-starter these days. So instead we see brand communications that put the onus on the individual to change their lifestyle, for example, even though that brand’s daily carbon footprint is likely to be higher than that of any individual’s lifetime. I see these mistakes all the time—is it any wonder why, when brands put the responsibility on individuals, over half of young people said they felt “sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty” about climate change? 


But even genuine, for-purpose brands can fall into this trap; losing sight of the people factor and raising awareness of the climate factor can end up simply exacerbating the feelings of guilt and powerlessness. 


So, we’ve been thinking…how can we break free from our bubble? 




What do I mean by insight? 

Knowledge is power, but insight? Insight is a deeper understanding bridging the gap between what we know to be true, and what we understand about that truth. It feels like a superpower. We’ve realised that in order to create the kind of communications we need to reach people and engage them with our clients’ purposes, we need to understand not just what people want, feel and do, but the why. Considering that 80% of the British population is concerned on some level about climate change, it’s safe to say the majority of us possess a level of awareness. But as we’ve all learned, the hard way, awareness isn’t enough. The reason I’m so keen to share our fresh focus on insight is crucial, we’ve realised insight provokes us to act. And I think you’ll agree, especially when it comes to the climate, we desperately need action.


“Insight is a deeper understanding bridging the gap between what we know to be true, and what we understand about that truth.”


How can purpose-driven businesses go about generating powerful insights? Here’s what we’ve learned we need to foster more internally at Enviral in order to tap into this superpower:


A culture of curiosity

To escape our echo chambers, we need curiosity. We must be curious and willing to open our minds to new, diverse sources of insight. Having one mentor who you relate to can be a hugely inspirational and valuable resource, but they won’t have all the answers. Our ecosystem of influence can evolve and offer new lenses to understand human needs and aspirations.

Maybe you’re curious to learn more about the future of car culture, or the latest aesthetic micro-trends coming out of the supercharged culture engine that is TikTok (coastal grandmother anyone?)? Or to seek objective viewpoints on big tech or energy solutions which actually, on reflection, we don’t know all that much about? In the office, we’ve recently enjoyed the podcast 39 ways to save the planet, which takes an objective view of the many solutions, such as hydrogen power, touted to save us from the mess we’ve made. Or maybe you’re curious to learn new skills? Our Lead Strategist Daniel is currently using our learning initiative to do a copywriting course, to understand how these principles might be applied to climate action communications. Josh, our Marketing Manager, has just completed a workshop to sharpen his strategic thinking, while Meggie, Account Director, has completed a public-speaking course to apply new techniques to the way we speak about what we do at Enviral. All sources with insights, that when applied to climate communications, could help us find a fresh angle.


Curiosity can help us reignite our purpose by finding new means of relating to people. Plus, a wider frame of reference encourages us all to walk our own line and create our own approach to staying true to your own business principles, rather than copying what other businesses are doing. And the more original your approach, the easier it is to escape typical pro-environmental messaging and to apply new ideas for sustainable communications.  


A culture of listening 

To benefit from curiosity, it’s not just enough to open our minds. As a communications agency with clients, our job is to ask questions, listen and analyse the answers of those questions to bring everyone together in single-minded clarity. This is when the best work is done. The world of social and environmental change is fast; for us to always be ahead of the curve, we’ve all got to feel able to bring our thoughts to the table and listen to each other. Over the 10 years I’ve worked towards the point Enviral is at today, the amount of understanding I’ve gained from others is immeasurable, you literally couldn’t quantify it. If you know something, we need to share it. And create a culture which gives everyone the chance to share their ideas – something we’re working on at Enviral right now. Remember Patagonia’s landmark Black Friday campaign? A conversation I had with now CEO of Patagonia – Ryan Gellert – on my first podcast, revealed the idea of this campaign could be credited to a junior employee who had just started working at Patagonia at the time. This never would have happened if the company didn’t have the culture which encouraged listening and respect of ideas at all levels.


In her article about why Trends aren’t dead for We Are Social, I liked how the author Susie Hogarth suggested that rather than brands and agencies figuring out how we can somehow keep up with creators who have the freedom to create what they want, when they want, how about we just engage in social listening instead? Time spent listening, rather than focusing on participating, could help us understand why these creators are sharing this kind of content, and how they feel about a particular event or subculture. Food for thought…



A trusted toolbox

While you become more intrepid in your sources of data, case studies, trends and research, it’s essential, yes absolutely essential, to find ways to distil new concepts and ideas into actionable insights. Frameworks are valuable tools capable of helping you connect the dots between people and your purpose – they help channel newfound understanding into communications which genuinely have an impact. This campaign strategy framework by Campaigns That Matter, that was recently brought to our attention by sustainable behaviour change consultant Livvy Drake, reveals effective and ineffective strategies for businesses working on plastic pollution campaigns. How often have plastic campaigns left you with the unpleasant feeling of guilt, when often alternatives are lacking? With frameworks, we can shape our creative ideas and make sure our communications prompt the desired feeling and action.


Too much insight can stifle creativity 

While curiosity and listening will expose us to new ideas and new ways of thinking, we’ve experienced such a thing as too much insight too. I think everyone can agree that data overload can cause complete paralysis when it comes to developing strategic plans and creative solutions. Speaking at our recent event, How the outdoors inspires powerful sustainability communications, Experimental Nature Filmmaker and Writer, Tom Mustill, revealed that even though they are powerful sources of insight, behavioural analytics and focus groups can stifle the creative process and even prevent experimentation and action altogether. Ultimately, if we know our audience and feel confident in our ideas, there’s a time to be off the cuff and be experimental.


Power up 

I believe that generating insights in for-purpose business doesn’t have to be a complicated process; at Enviral we’re not going to start spending extra hours crunching research data. We will  still be keeping bang up-to-date with all the latest in the for-purpose business space, but we’ll also be adopting a culture of curiosity, practising that sometimes forgotten skill of listening, and using tools and processes to apply insights effectively to our communication strategies. With a little more focus on insights to inform our communications, I believe we’ll find fresh, new dialogue to engage citizens in climate action rather than causing climate apathy.



Written by
Joss Ford