The meaning of sustainability in 2020

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While everyone is talking about sustainability, how can you produce relevant content and actually get heard? In short: by focusing on the issues that people consider important, make them agitated or happy. This article illustrates why topics such as “vitality” and “heritage” are positively loaded and connected to high engagement on social media. You will also get topic inspirations and impact analysis, to create better sustainability content yourself.

What does sustainability mean?

 The term “sustainability” often refers to the function of natural systems:  “remaining diverse and produce everything it needs for the ecology to remain in balance” (Environmental Science). Sustainability supports ecological, human, and economic health of the world around us.

Many companies are stepping up to address sustainability factors and even include their corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a part of their marketing campaigns.

Some of the reasons to embrace the topic of sustainability are cost saving, consumer demand, risk mitigation, leadership, tax incentives, employee retention, brand reputation, resource limitations, and new revenue opportunities (Business Insider).

Companies such as Nike, Adidas, Unilever, Nestlé, Walmart, IKEA and H&M have already embraced sustainability as a part of their business operations. 

Your company might want to consider implementing sustainability as a part of its business operations, or revisit communication and marketing messaging when it comes to this subject. Below is the data driven approach towards researching what will be the most appropriate way of communicating this topic. 

The following analysis is based on over 70 Billion words scraped digitally from the USA. Including mass media, social media, wikipedia, movie-, music- and TV-Transcripts. Using artificial neural networks and consumer surveys, associations are determined and emotional responses predicted. See our FAQ for details. 

“62% of executives consider a sustainability strategy necessary to be competitive today, and another 22% think it will be in the future” – Professor Knut Haanaes

What consumers think is the meaning of sustainability

#6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All Graphics - 0730 #6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All Graphics #6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All Graphics #6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All Graphics #6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All Graphics #6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All Graphics #6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All Graphics #6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All Graphics #6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All Graphics #6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All Graphics 5%Neutral28%CalmingNeitherDominantnorGentleNeitherAbstractnorConcreteNeither Masculinenor FeminineSUSTAINABILITY

The meaning of sustainability depends on the things people think when they hear the word. Here, we show exactly which automatic thoughts people have and how you can use them to communicate your person, brand, or product most effectively.

The mood of sustainability is slightly positive [5%]. When just rating the concept behind the word, the general population would have a positive and happy reaction to this topic.

The amount of perceived power is small. Sustainability neither carries strong gentleness nor dominance [0%].

When it comes to exciting strong emotions, sustainability has a calming connotation [28%]. The concept and related ideas are connected to reduced anxiety

Sustainability has no significant gender leaning [1% masculine]

With respect to perceived concreteness, its neither strongly concrete or abstract [2% concrete]. The meaning of innovation is defined by the things people think about innovation when they hear it. This article shows exactly which automatic thoughts people have and how you can use them to communicate your person, brand, or product most effectively.

The emotions behind the meaning of sustainability

#6436 - World Association Wiki page template - All GraphicsEmotional Dimensionsof Sustainabilityfoundationwellbeingperspectiveteamworkbenefitholisticparticipationeducationtourismempowermentlongevityencourageresiliencecommitmentfundamentalprosperityadvancementachievementsuccessembracelifestylepartnershiphospitalityforefrontrecognisecornerstonestrengthenembodypromotephilosophyautonomyexcellenceequalitycreativityinvestment

Which associations combine the power of emotion?

The Venn Diagram above shows which associations are both able to communicate different emotions at the same time.

In the middle of the diagram, you find words which are expressing all emotions strongly: advancement, cooperation, partner, prosperity, and vitality.

For strong brand communication, these concepts have big potential as they are likely to draw attention and stir strong positive emotions. For example, focusing of the sustained vitality of the planet, people, plants and fauna can trigger people to understand the benefits of sustainability.

Vital shot from Melissa Askew

Both, happy and exciting associations are: energy, collaborate, accreditation, certification and ambitious. To draw people into your brand story, a business can highlight their collaboration with sustainable institutions (fair trade, etc.) which is in line with their ambition to become carbon-neutral. 

Achieve, cultivate, teamwork, embody, and commitment are both, happy and powerful. Have you just achieved a major sustainability milestone or cultivated a sustainable culture with teamwork? If the meaning of sustainability is supposed to be happy and powerful, then these concepts can make people both happy and strengthen an association with power. 

Both, exciting and powerful associations are: leader, evolve, equality, diversify, and continually. These associations are clearly radiating power and make people’s hearts pump faster. Exciting is not necessarily positive or negative, just exciting. Equality, for example, can be a hot button subject (exciting) and is certainly associated with power. If you want to take a strong stance, this is the place to shine, just know that it is also hot in the sunlight.

Credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Very happy associations are: nurture, hospitality, foundation, meaningful and wellbeing. Use these concepts for feel-good content and messaging. Welcoming people into your home. Nurturing connections with the community or your brand’s heritage. These concepts are more unmistakably positive. 

Very exciting associations are: business, procurement, finance, emerge, and logistic. Keep in mind that exciting is not positive (happy is positive), exciting means making your hands sweat, which can be good (being on a great date) or bad (when you hear a weird noise outside the tent). Therefore talking about business or procurement processes is not enough to make people associate positive sustainability thoughts with your brand. What makes the process sustainable, what are the principles behind it? With context, these topics can work, but they require explanation. 

Focus emotions for expressing the meaning of sustainability

Very powerful associations with sustainability are discipline, priority, heritage, efficiency, and technological. Such associations are signaling power, and as you will see in later analysis, these associations can also lead to higher engagement on social media. 

Depending on brand personality and current campaign goals, you can pick one or a couple of these concepts to craft a message which resonates. Understanding the emotions behind the concept will give you more confidence in choosing a direction.

The meaning of Sustainability in a flower graph

Flower graph of "sustainability" created with the Neuro Flash software - click to enlarge

Sub-topics of sustainability, like environmental, governance, conservation and ecological tell us a lot about the perceived meaning of sustainability. Before you dig deeper into the flower graph, let’s quickly describe what you see.

The flower graph shows words that are connected to the seed-word: sustainability. Words closer to the middle are more strongly related to the concept in the middle (sustainability) and fulfil the current goals. The goal is always stated in the legend at the bottom right. In this case, the displayed words are connected to the seed-word (sustainability) and are easy to understand.

Your goal for “sustainability” maybe different, you can change your preferences in our software settings (sign-up here).

The word-bubble color indicates the strength of the mood. More green is more happy, more red is more sad. White is neutral. This means that e.g. green words are perceived to be more unmistakable positive. Words like prosperity, vitality and wholeness are more positive than sustainability and environmentalism.

Size matters, in this shot by Edward Howell

In the flower graph, the size of the bubbles / peddles indicates the word’s commonness in the country (USA). Big means more common, smaller means less common.

In effective marketing communication, words should be easy to understand. More common words are easier to understand because people see them a lot. For example, partnercooperationsuccess, and excellence are common.

Uncommon words on the other hand can make people think, but words that nobody knows, can also make your message harder to comprehend. The words impetus, dynamism and primacy are quite rare and may not be known to everyone.

Facebook engagement for Sustainability posts 

Facebook Engagement correlations - Click image to enlarge

Want more likes, comments and shares on Facebook when talking about sustainability?

This above graph shows concepts surrounding sustainability that are related to high social media engagement. Engagement is the ability of content to create likes, comments and shares.
The vertical axis sorts concepts to the top when they are correlated to more engagement. The horizontal axis indicated the values of the concepts on gender leaning judgement. 

Masculinity-Femininity indicates the level of “gender leaning”, i.e. how stereotypically male or female a concept is being perceived. Very masculine words connected to sustainability and high engagement are summit, ambitious, and heritage. Less masculine words are reflect, empowerment, and feminism.

Content that uses these words or expresses associated meaning is more engaging. Content evoking associations with heritage, summit, and vitality are more engaging than content about empowerment, handbooks, and ethical. There appears to be a correlation between the gender leaning of topics and the amount of engagement they trigger. There is even a positive trend for heritage and vitality (indicated by a green arrow), meaning that it has become more engaging on Facebook over the last months.  

What should you write on Facebook with this information? 

You can work your story around the topic of heritage. If your brand has a strong heritage in traditional craftsmanship, now is a good time to highlight that fact.

You may start talking about your international sustainability-mission or philanthropic activities.

But how about topics that work on other social networks?

Instagram engagement for Sustainability posts 

Instagram engagement prediction - click image to enlarge

Instagram engagement (likes, comments & shares) for sustainability related posts is shown above. Post text that was connected to the display of achievements, advancements but also founders and CEOs is doing well. One can interpret this pattern to indicate that exhibiting leadership from the top and presenting results is beneficial to gain more engagement on Instagram.

interestingly, on Instagram, engaging posts are correlated with the amount of happiness they communicate. Topics low on “happiness” like audit, analyse and landfill are not very engaging. “Happy” topics like inclusion, advancement, and cooperation are doing a lot better.

Stock images most associated with Sustainability

Click to enlarge

Text is often not the only means of communication, as your message needs to be accompanied by a strong visual. Images say more than a thousand words! These pictures match the association of sustainability, which you may want to consider in your content. Refer to the original source for usage requirements.

Topics for search optimization and advertising

Click to en large

The above table ranks the associated sustainability terms with highest monthly search volume against lowest cost per click (CPC rate) in the USA which are least competitive to bid for on Google Ads. You may want to consider them in your next advertising campaign preparation.

Finally, after working through content ideation and keywords research for your content creation, what content examples could you consider for your Sustainability campaign?

For example, on top of the funnel in the Attract phase of the customer journey, you may want to consider blog posts, press publications, social media, podcasts, polls, advertising and infographics

To get access to the full report for sustainability associations in the USA, or another subject in a given location, sign up for Neuro Flash.

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