Our climate is in crisis and an increasing number of political leaders, industry titans, and media moguls are recognizing the threat. And, as a result, governments, businesses, and industries worldwide are beginning to embrace robust and wide-ranging sustainability initiatives.
But for all the hope and promise the green movement has engendered, there are some challenges. Among the most significant of these is the relative dearth of attention given to the issue of accessibility in the sustainability movement.
This article examines the intersection of accessibility and sustainability in marketing, including describing best practices for ensuring that your marketing strategies and platforms are both sustainable and accessible.
The Challenges of Accessible Sustainability
In many ways, the issue of accessibility in sustainable initiatives aligns with other obstacles inherent in the green movement at this time. It is well-known, for example, that economic, social, and political inequities play out in particularly significant ways in the domain of climate harm.
Communities of color and poor and working-class communities alike are disproportionately affected by environmental harms, from air and ground pollution to the lack of access to “green” spaces. Sustainability initiatives, for the most part, have been the provenance of more affluent communities and persons often least affected by the threat of climate change and other environmental harms.
The same issues apply when it comes to accessibility in sustainability, as persons with disabilities are far more likely to experience long-term unemployment and financial insecurity than the general population. Indeed, it is estimated that more than 25% of persons with disabilities live at or below the poverty level compared with just over 10% of persons without a disability.
For marketers seeking to address sustainability initiatives in their content, the lived experiences of disability may make such content unappealing at best and inaccessible at worst. Members of the target audience who have disabilities, for example, may have neither the financial resources nor the proximal access to sustainability programs featured in marketing materials. They may, for instance, be physically or financially unable to recycle, compost, or cultivate an organic community garden.
And this, from a content perspective, may only serve to marginalize and disenfranchise persons with disabilities from the sustainability movement.
Unfortunately, it isn’t only the content of sustainability marketing materials that may prove inaccessible to persons with disabilities. The form of these materials may also be unusable by persons with disabilities.
For instance, in an effort to reduce paper consumption, marketers may choose to use smaller fonts on print materials. And while this may certainly increase the amount of content that can be included on a single sheet of paper, for those with age-related sensory degradation or with other forms of vision loss, such “green” approaches may render the content useless for them.
A similar problem prevails when it comes to web page design. Condensing content and reducing brightness and vibrancy in the page design may well result in less energy consumption, but users with vision impairments may find it difficult, if not impossible, to view the content at all.
Leveraging Social Media
Now more than ever, social media is proving an increasingly potent marketing tool, and that means that it can be invaluable in promoting accessible sustainability. For instance, diverse social media platforms enable marketers to reach a diverse target audience in the ways that serve the audience best.
For consumers who are Deaf or hard of hearing, for example, the more text- and image-focused platforms, such as Facebook and Pinterest, can be an ideal source for learning about sustainability programs in their areas. Conversely, video-focused platforms, such as YouTube and TikTok, may be beneficial for those with vision impairments or who may have developmental delays and learning disorders that impact their reading comprehension.
And because social media platforms are increasingly designed to ensure accessibility regardless of the specific needs of individual consumers, they can be used with great success to educate and empower users with disabilities in regard to sustainability practices, programs, and policies. For instance, social media campaigns may be created to educate audiences both with and without disabilities on the problem of greenwashing and provide them with best practices for identifying the corporations that practice it.
For far too long, the issue of accessibility in sustainability marketing has received relatively little attention. The reality, however, is that persons with disabilities are often disproportionately impacted by climate threats and other environmental harms, principally as a result of long-term unemployment and financial insecurity. Despite the particular relevance of sustainability issues in the lives of persons with disabilities, however, sustainable marketing materials are often inaccessible to or unusable by them.
The good news, however, is that social media may be a particularly powerful tool for supporting accessible sustainability in marketing across its many platforms. This could include, for instance, the creation of sustainability-related content that is easily accessible to those with hearing, vision, and cognitive impairments.
Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. When he isn’t writing you can find him travelling, hiking, or gaming. You can keep up with his writing on his Twitter.
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