Green lives and green communication

Green lives and green communication

The world’s first identified environmentalists can be considered to be the Bishnoi community in Rajasthan in northern India, as argues by a majority of environmentalists. Their example appears even more interesting to look at today than it has ever been. 

The Bishnoi, still around today, follow 29 principles laid out in 1485 by their Hindu guru Jambheshwar after a major drought. Radical measures combined with strict enforcement were essential if the community was to survive. 

The 29 rules include strict hygiene rules, and bans on eating meat and cutting down green trees. All water and milk has to be filtered to avoid killing insects. Animals such as goats and sheep are protected as fiercely as if they were people. Over the years, the Bishnoi community’s men have often been killed while chasing poachers. As a result, life has been sustained in the inhospitable Thar Desert. 

A small population in a limited area made adoption and enforcement of the Bishnois rules practical in a way that can’t be mimicked in a world of 7 billion people and can however be questioned in many ways.

Yet, other societies also showed interest in building sustainable communities. In France this was expressed in the idea of “se mettre au vert”, or to go green, which has historical connotations of “returning to what is essential.” Yet nowhere was this idea so thoroughly implemented over such a long period as in northern India.  

Today, time is not on our side. The global scale of our problems mean that technology-driven communication is the only feasible way of getting people to internalise environmental values. Devising communication strategies that are inspiring while being transparently green in their deployment is a crucial task.  


Green as a colour is associated in the West with environmental sustainability and for many of us denotes peace and calm. Yet green, like all colours, means different things in different places: it is the holy colour of Islam, a symbol of death in Latin America, and a sign of wealth in many Asian cultures. An important task in communication is to leverage green’s environmental associations while adapting the use of the colour as necessary for local cultures. 

This has nothing to do with “greenwashing”, or the use of nature-evoking elements in advertising or communications to artificially enhance an image. It has everything to do with communication leading by example. In corporate communication, the days of using a thin veneer of sustainability metrics as a fig leaf for unsustainable business models are over. Institutional investors now have demanding sustainability criteria which are impossible to dodge. 

These criteria in many cases have evolved beyond simply excluding from investment consideration industries which are not always “green”. Many sustainable institutional investors will consider putting money into a full spectrum of industries. But they want to see evidence of progress on carbon footprints and other metrics. In short, they want to see evidence that companies are cleaning up their act. It’s the direction of change rather than the starting point that counts.


With all eyes on the search for a COVID-19 solution, our own environmental challenges have quietly been increasing. In October, scientists found preliminary evidence that frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean have started to be released. The first known active leak of methane from the sea floor in Antarctica had already been discovered by scientists this year. 

It could be that methane has been leaking out all the time and we have only just found out how to identify it. But the scientific research highlights the possibility of a feedback loop leading to the release of much greater quantities of methane, which is estimated to have a warming impact on the atmosphere 80 times greater than carbon dioxide. 

On the individual level, first impressions have always been notoriously hard to alter. In a digital world, those first impressions are very often visual, leaving literally no time for the written message. The average person is distracted within eight seconds, and a first impression of visual content marketing is usually formed within 50 milliseconds. Sustainable messaging must do what it says on the tin, but the tin and the message both need to be instantly understandable. 

It’s not exactly that the medium is the message. But the carbon footprint of the medium is an essential part of credibility. Information and communication technology (ICT) accounts for 2% of the global CO2 emissions. That means communication must practice what it preaches.