Communicating sustainability efforts to tenants

December  2019 — When engaging management and tenants in sustainable building efforts, communication is imperative in order to ensure that the goals of the efforts are aligned and implemented. Factors that contribute to successful programs are:

  • An awareness of employee demographics
  • Knowledge of the corporation’s or organization’s sustainability profile
  • Alignment of the building owner and management sustainability goals with those of the tenants

Aligning building and tenant sustainability goals to ensure success also requires an understanding of the different forms of communication strategies that can be used to engage tenants. This is a critical aspect of building the right communication and engagement plan.

Based on unique workforce demographics, technological sophistication, and company loyalty, it is important for building professionals to understand their tenant’s motivations and responses to the dynamics of the 21st century work environment.

Fundamental communication theory

People spend 75 percent of their time communicating, using the following methods to convey their messages:

  • Visual
  • Written
  • Verbal
  • Nonverbal
  • Active engagement through gamification

In creating a communication strategy to engage tenants for sustainable initiatives, integrating all these approaches will increase the likelihood that goals are met. The approaches should be matched to the audience and the message. It is important to keep in mind that every audience has unique profiles and needs. Tenant communication approaches will need to be sensitive to this issue.

Visual communication

Visual communication conveys ideas and information that can be viewed or read, such as signs, graphics, and illustrations. This type of communication is typical of print advertising, posters, billboards, traffic signs, and websites. It is important that the message is consistent with the type of information to be conveyed, and that it is updated as the message or the information changes.

Signs and visual communication

Placing signs in strategic areas can automatically engage passersby, but the content of the sign will determine whether the viewer grasps and subsequently responds to the message. Signs must be clear to those who do not have a specific knowledge base regarding the topic. This opportunity for instant messaging can be used to educate the viewer about the intent of the visual image, and possibly also to change behavior. Both building and tenant managers must be cognizant of the need to address individuals’ concerns and interests in order to drive engagement and cooperation.

Prototypes and visual communication

Another form of visual communication is to actually install a prototype or mockup of building-wide sustainable initiatives to engage occupants. Examples are to install new lighting in a small area or room, provide a few LED task lights as a trial, or show options for recycling bins and prospective signage.

Branding and visual communication

Visual communication can also provide opportunities for branding and creating an identity with sustainability at the forefront. Branding and visual communications can provide a link to the sustainability strategy, drive awareness within the organization, and motivate on a more personal level. This identity can take the form of logos, website banners, and collateral templates such as marketing brochures, flyers, and website graphic interfaces.

Written communication

E-mail, letters, memos, reports, tweets, RSS feeds, blogs, and text messaging are all forms of written communication that can help convey a sustainability message. E-mail and text messages are two of the easiest and most effective ways to transmit information to tenants and occupants.

Information can be disseminated quickly using these methods, but e-mails easily can be dismissed due to the high volume people receive. Possible drawbacks for text messaging are its limited text allowance and an informality that may not suit all business settings.

Websites and print advertising are examples of the combination of visual and written communication methods. The combination of written and visual communication used in websites helps to reinforce the sustainable message.

Websites are a place for building managers to post messages and other documents for tenants and occupants. They also provide an opportunity for building professionals and tenants to interact through blogs and message boards. As tenants log into a website for work orders or rent payment, a monthly green tip on the home page can provide a constant reminder that the facilities manager is trying to create a high-performance profile.

Verbal communication

Verbal communication of sustainability initiatives requires the appropriate tone to convey the message. Public speaking and multiple-party verbal interactions are examples of verbal communication in a business setting. YouTube can serve as a verbal and visual method to engage tenants, as well. Providing a short video can help elicit feedback effectively.

Five key elements of effective verbal communication for creating a tenant engagement plan are:

  • Consistency
  • Tone and frequency
  • Clarity
  • Volume control
  • Speed control

Consider the following tools for improving communication, especially when working toward tenant engagement of sustainability initiatives for the high-performance building.

  • Confidence.
    Be confident in your ability to verbalize and communicate concepts.
  • Knowledge.
    Be knowledgeable of your subject matter, which helps to build confidence.
  • Outline.
    Memorize an outline of discussion topics for both formal and informal verbal communication.
  • Clarity.
    Be concise and clear. Avoid fillers such as ah and um in both informal and formal verbal communication.
  • Eye contact.
    Maintaining eye contact is crucial to sending your message to the receiver. The receiver will feel confident in you and your knowledge of the subject matter.
  • Humor can help you connect with your audience, arouse interest, and maintain attention. It is important, however, to ensure that the humor is appropriate to the subject matter and to the audience.
  • Figure out which relaxation techniques work for you—slow breathing, meditation, light stretching, visualization, and listening to soft music are some options.

Nonverbal communication

Methods of nonverbal communication include gestures, body language, facial expression, and eye contact. Body language during a presentation can show how engaged and interested the speaker is in the topic. A casual and lethargic demeanor may produce a negative response to the message, whereas a vigorous and energetic performance may provoke a more positive reaction.

In a presentation or other face-to-face encounter, only 7 percent of the messaging is conveyed by words alone, while 38 percent is conveyed through words and tone. Body language accounts for 55 percent of how a message is understood, making this the most influential factor in communication. In other words, 93 percent of a message relies on combining words with the right tone and body language.

Gamification and sustainability

The four traditional forms of communication—visual, written, verbal, and nonverbal—each have a role in delivering a message and engaging your audience. A fifth type, epitomized by gamification, is active engagement. Video games and user engagement applications with feedback can command a user’s focus and drive friendly competition. Games can also assist in developing special skills to achieve difficult goals. This type of game playing can be a tool to help users pursue sustainability goals, from zero waste to ensuring the supply chain vendors are incorporating sustainable practices. Gamification can be used to drive engagement across an entire organization by creating a habit. It grabs attention on social media and can speed up a company’s sustainability processes.

People can compete individually or in teams for percentages, points, prizes, and recognition. CloudApps, a sustainability software solution company, suggests bringing a fun, innovative, and competitive approach using game mechanics that includes challenges, badges, levels, rewards, and leader boards. The consulting firm Deloitte has developed a Business Simulation Game that enables players to experiment with sustainable initiatives for their client companies in a safe game setting. The game allows players to make mistakes and try again without losing face. The four-step approach is

  • Make it Visible
  • Make it Urgent
  • Make it Happen
  • Make it Stick

This direct experience accelerates learning about and adoption of sustainability strategies by bringing a relevant and innovative approach to solving sustainability engagement problems.

Gamification can ensure successful sustainability communication and engagement by:

  • Aligning goals
    Meeting corporate sustainability goals through increased participation as a result of the use of the gamification technique.
  • Understanding appropriate and unique means to communicate with each generation
    Using up-to-date gaming technologies with real-time results and accountability creates an atmosphere of success.

A successful communication program is never “one size fits all.” Each audience is unique, and success can only be accomplished by first understanding how best to communicate creatively based on a specific audience.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s High-Performance Sustainable Building Practices course, part of the High-Performance Sustainable Buildings credential (BOMI-HP™). More information regarding this course or the new High-Performance certificate courses is available by calling 1-800-235-2664. Visit BOMI International’s website,