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Methods in sustainability communications

A theoretical framework for sustainability communication is important in order to be able to understand the possibilities and conditions of communication processes about sustainability and its underlying concepts, to recognise its deficits and to analyse and develop it conceptually. However in order to be able to manage or influence the process of communication about sustainability, methods and instruments are necessary. These include for example social marketing, empowerment, instruments of participation and planning and education.

Social Marketing is an important approach in sustainability communication and the same principles used in selling goods and services can be used to support a process of voluntary, individual behavioural change regarding such social issues as saving energy or conservation.

The Social marketing approach provides a strategy for improving the efficiency of sustainability communication. This communication concept is oriented towards the needs of target groups and so towards lifestyles. Word of mouth communications is a central element of viral communication and today mainly takes place in online communication and in social networks.

Another starting point for sustainability communication are empowerment strategies, which have as their goal to help people actively shape the conditions of their own life. This involves developing the competence to recognise non sustainable activities and then apply knowledge about sustainability to remedy them. There is an institutional as well as an individual dimension to empowerment ( Wilkinson 1998). Communication and participation together with educational processes are meant to strengthen civil society, promote individual engagement and support political education processes that enable individuals to actively take part in shaping a sustainable society. A central role is played by increasing participation opportunities and the space for individuals to influence change in a sustainable way. This involves the ability to reflect critically on the uncertainties and risks, different types of rationality as well as the consequences of one's own actions, which are an intrinsic part of such an engagement.

The use of a variety of different communicative planning and participation instruments plays a role here, from future workshops to future conferences as well as round tables and mediation or advocacy planning and E-participation.

A broader context of sustainability communication involves examining education processes. Education has the medium and long term goal of assisting learners to acquire the basic knowledge and competencies needed to actively shape a sustainable future for life and work as well as enabling them to participate and empowering them to take action. The goal of an education for sustainable development (ESD) is to help create the conditions for self determined and autonomous action and not just to train changes in behaviour. ESD aims at developing and enhancing the creative potential in the individual, his competencies in communication and cooperative work as well as problem solving and taking action.

Learning processes need to be initiated that allow an individual to sharpen his awareness in both private and working life of what is ecologically responsible, economically feasible and socially acceptable as well as enabling him to make the corresponding changes in his behaviour. Such ESD processes take place in both the formal and informal education sector.

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