Environmental and social sustainability is no longer just a tick-box activity for businesses. It is now featured at the top of the agenda for the business community. Business sustainability is proportionally linked to environmental and social sustainability. Climate change, resource scarcity, adverse weather patterns and critical conservation issues affect business; and the responsibility does not solely rely on environmental management organisations to mitigate the impacts. The responsibility lies with citizens and the business world. For us to actively take responsibility for our sustainability, science communication is the fundamental starting point.
Science communication is not just about sharing the data and information on environmental, climate and sustainability issues. Science communication incorporates the art of storytelling, creative writing, visual communication and audience engagement to convey complex messages about the natural world around us. Science communication connects science and society. It makes science language accessible. It plays an important role in active citizenship. It provides citizens with the knowledge to take responsibility for their own livelihoods and their role towards a better future.
Importantly, science communication is not only the responsibility of scientists. It is in fact the responsibility of all businesses, as all businesses will have a carbon footprint and a material impact on natural resources. Yes, even if you are working remotely. Let’s take a look at the important roles of science communication:
Science communication empowers consumers to make informed decisions. As with health considerations, the environmental considerations that are linked to a product are influencing consumers’ behaviour and buying choices. If a brand wants to stay ahead in the marketplace, it needs to have a strategy to communicate its efforts to mitigate the environmental impacts associated with the production of a product. How a product is sourced, how much waste is generated through the process, and how recyclable the packaging is, are all factors influencing buying decisions and consumer behaviour.
Extended-producer responsibility (EPR) is an example of a regulatory mechanism which is now being used in many countries to curb the waste generation associated with a product’s packaging. Essentially EPR extends the responsibility of the producer of a product past the consumer stage of the product’s lifecycle to determine what happens to the product’s waste. With this mechanism, producers are responsible for ensuring that their communication via the products’ packaging, design and marketing influences the degree to which it is recycled. In this instance, communication plays a crucial role.
Science communication needs to be transparent and evidence-based. It is not good enough to say that something is ‘sustainable’ or ‘environmentally-friendly’. This often lands as an empty statement and consumers will not fall for this. Many companies and brands are also being called out for ‘greenwashing’ stating that their product is sustainable but not backing it up with tangible evidence. In science communication, sharing the evidence clearly, without manipulation establishes trust amongst your key stakeholders. A mandatory sustainability reporting requirement for all major listed companies is to fully disclose all water, waste, energy and climate-related risks and data.
Water, waste and climate-related data can be very overwhelming due to the complexity of these environmental aspects. Science communication needs to make big data accessible to a diversity of stakeholders. Through the appropriate use of language and visual communication, science communicators should be able to take a wealth of science data and information and package it in a way that is digestible to the average consumer. People have the right to know about how the environment is being protected, how natural resources are conserved and what environmental and climate-related risks they face. For people to understand this, science communication needs to transform the science data into relatable stories.
When science information is made accessible through effective science communication, it invites in multiple perspectives. This is important in our approach towards managing environmental and climate-related risks as many different demographic groups, cultures and traditions can introduce different approaches to managing these risks. Inclusivity is important in any strategy to manage environmental risks, therefore science communication needs to consider the different backgrounds of people, traditions and cultures.
Science communication protects our fundamental human rights and access to justice. In South Africa, our environmental rights are embedded in our Constitution. Everyone has the right to have an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing, and to have the environment protected for future generations. In order for us to understand how our environmental rights are impacted, activities, businesses and development that pose an environmental risk, are by law required to communicate this effectively in a way that people can stand up and protect their fundamental rights.
Using different modalities of storytelling, visual communication and designing visitor experiences, formula D_ has adopted an agenda to enhance science communication that empowers citizens. As an organisation, we recognise that our ability to create immersive visitor experiences can act as a highly effective form of science communication.