Sustainable Refrigeration: Tips for simplifying a complex topic

By Keilly Witman
KW Refrigerant Management Strategy LLC

In Parts I and II of the series on sustainability and refrigerants, I listed some of the reasons why it can be difficult to communicate with grocery shoppers about sustainable refrigeration. This third installment provides tactics for clear, simple, and compelling communication — as well as tips to avoid common mistakes.

First, I need to address readers who expect a fill-in-the blank communication template that works for everyone and every topic. Stop reading now. You are going to be disappointed. The truth of the matter is, there is no universal formula for communication. If there were, and I knew it, I’d sell it for a lot of money, buy my own island, and leave the whole refrigeration world far behind. You’d never see me again.

I’m still here. Enough said.

While I can’t give you a formula, I can offer suggestions for making things easier and tips on what to avoid that are based on my own trial and error. And believe me, I’ve tried, and erred, and tried again. Slowly but surely, I learned what works with supermarket customers and what doesn’t.

Let’s start with a discussion of common mistakes that I see over and over again, because it’s always easier to hone in on what not to do.

Keep it simple

One of the most common communication mistakes I see over and over again in our industry is that we make our messages too complicated. Complexity is the enemy of successful communication. Complexity means that your audience has to work to understand you, believe you, and be persuaded by you. There are few people who have nothing better to do with their time than work to understand what you are trying to tell them.

Avoid words that the vast majority of your audience (the general public) does not understand. That sounds obvious, right? Well, if your press release or speech to grocery shoppers uses words or phrases like ozone-depleting substances, metric tons of CO2 equivalent, transcritical, refrigerant emissions, HFCs, HCFCs, R-22 (or the combination of the letter R and any other number), carbon footprint, cascade, distributed, rack, compressor (or the name of any other component), advanced technology, TEWI, or charge size, hit delete and start over.

Ask yourself after each sentence whether there is a simpler way to express your thought. This can increase your word count, but what good is a short press release if it is off putting? Instead of refrigerant charge, use the term “the amount of refrigerant used.” Instead of emissions, use the word “leak.” Instead of ozone-depleting substances, use the phrase “chemicals that harm our ozone layer.”

One exception

If your press release is meant for the trade media, then you are not targeting regular grocery shoppers. That doesn’t mean it is okay to use complex messages, but it does mean that your audience will be familiar with some of the before-mentioned words and phrases.

Ditch the jargon

Don’t use jargon, especially jargon about sustainability. For instance, don’t even use the word sustainability. Jargon about sustainability makes you sound like the type of person who spends too much time talking about sustainability and not enough time doing something to achieve it. Jargon in general makes you sound pretentious. Do you like listening to pretentious people? Does anyone?

Though this isn’t an absolute no-no, I would avoid getting into details about climate change, global warming, and ozone depletion. Why? Because most people who use those words don’t really understand what they mean. Try the following exercise on your own: explain global warming. Don’t just think about it for two seconds and reassure yourself that you could do it; get out a piece of paper. Try to write a paragraph explaining it, or use your cell phone to record yourself while you explain it.

The reason I suggest you try this on your own is that you’ll likely be embarrassed if you try it in front of others. We all think we know a lot about refrigerants and the environment, right? There is a good chance that every single one of you has referred to global warming. Most regular shoppers haven’t spent the amount of time on this issue that we all have. They don’t have a reason or desire to understand our issues at our level. So if we don’t really know what we are talking about, why would we expect shoppers to understand what we are talking about?

Stay “on message

The good news is that shoppers don’t have to understand the complexities of global warming, climate change, and ozone layer depletion to understand that you are doing something good for the environment. And in the end, isn’t that all you want to get across: that your store or your company did something really good for the environment? If you pinpointed the one message that a store wants shoppers to understand after reading a press release or listening to your speech, wouldn’t you be happy if they walked away with that idea embedded in their brains?

Of course, every person and every entity in existence nowadays is claiming to do something good for the environment. So how do you separate yourself from them? By doing it better than everyone else does. I get frustrated when I hear people say that you shouldn’t communicate about the good things your store is doing for the environment because everyone else is making the same claims. Imagine if every company that sells laundry detergent in your store stopped saying that it gets your wash clean, because their competitors also claimed to get wash clean. Those laundry detergent companies don’t say, “oh well, that’s that.” They work harder, and they do it better than the competition.

Very simply stated, a compelling message consists of three parts:

  • Some kind of insight that tells the reader or listener why he or she should pay attention to you
  • A benefit, i.e. the answer to the question “what’s in it for me?”
  • Some kind of proof or reason the listener or reader should believe you

What turns a good message into a compelling message is the subject of part IV of this series on communicating with customers about sustainability and refrigeration. Yes, that’s right, I’ve added a fourth installment to what was originally a three-part series. It will go into the specifics of making your message relevant, believable, appealing, and distinctive. Until next time!

Keilly Witman is the owner of KW Refrigerant Management Strategy, a consulting firm that helps the supermarket industry manage the many strategic challenges of todays and tomorrows refrigeration world. Prior to starting her own firm, she ran the EPAs GreenChill Partnership, which grew to encompass more than 8,500 supermarkets during her tenure.

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