The Power of Visual Messaging


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Cat & Cow in Randwick, Australia.

[I]n search of a way to succinctly convey your sustainability mission and approach to your customers? Consider a few carefully placed, well-designed signs.

Posters, signs, and other well-planned visual messaging cues, such as photographs on social media illustrating your adoption of reusable service ware, can convey your café’s low- or zero-waste approach in a matter of seconds—sometimes more profoundly than text-heavy mission statements ever could.

Rātā Café

Wellington, New Zealand

Situated in New Zealand’s Zealandia ecosanctuary, Rātā Café’s proceeds help support the Karori Sanctuary Trust, which manages the preserve.

In keeping with the café’s green mission, Rātā composts all food waste, coffee grinds, and paper napkins, and uses biodegradable products for takeaway.

To encourage customers to bring their own reusable cups and mugs to reduce waste, the café worked with a professional sign artist to design a blackboard montage that could easily convey a simple but powerful message: Choose to Reuse.

Choose to Reuse sign and menu at Rātā Café in Wellington, New Zealand.

“We wanted to make our message as clear as possible,” says Alicia Bogdanowicz, the café’s manager. “Previous to that, we just had a member of staff doing our boards. By bringing in a professional, the message is clear and concise and comes through via the images and colors.”

Since adding the sign at the café’s front desk and sharing it on social media channels, “it’s created quite a stir,” says Bogdanowicz. “We’ve been receiving messages [about it] through sustainability networks, and it’s been awesome.”

Rātā’s Choose to Reuse signage has generated such a positive response that Bogdanowicz plans to work with the same designer to create a Mission Statement board for the café’s main entry.

“It’s going to be something similar, but in the context of Zealandia sustainability,” she says.

Cat & Cow

Randwick, Australia

Before director Lenka Kriz officially opened Cat & Cow in the Sydney suburbs in August, she strategically hung signs about the shop’s sustainable mission and zero-waste approach on the café windows and actively posted to social media channels so that when customers arrived, they weren’t shocked to learn that the café does not offer single-use takeout cups.

“We started posting to social media two months before we opened, to really enforce our approach and to invite the neighborhood to donate their unwanted mugs,” says Kriz. “When we opened, almost every person either had their drink here or brought their own cup.”

The team (above) and window sign at Cat & Cow

Even for those who walk in unprepared, the café’s well-designed posters explain quickly what their options are: drink in, buy a reusable cup, or borrow one. The signs, created in collaboration with Kriz’s friend, who is a professional marketer, intentionally distilled the café’s approach into simple, easy-to-understand messaging, she says.

“Unless you share the proper message, people wonder, ‘Why would you do something that’s less convenient?’” says Kriz. “She helped me craft signs that are visibly appealing and make sense so that even if we don’t have time to speak to every customer individually in the queue, they understand what we’re doing and why.”

Kind Café

Vancouver, Canada

Kind Café, a vegan café and coffee shop in Vancouver, also opened in August with a no-waste model that encourages customers to dine in or bring their own containers. If customers forget to bring their own takeout containers, the café offers a collection of donated, pre-used plastic takeout boxes as well as mugs and mason jars—all of which can be returned later or kept by the customer. (The café charges a 50-cent deposit only on mason jars.)

Kind Café’s BYOC sign

To spread the word, owner Samantha Emerman has placed bold BYOC (Bring Your Own Container) signs on eye-catching pink cardstock around the café, as well as on the café’s social media channels. The shop also has matching signs to promote donations of reusable ware and to encourage customers to use cloth napkins.

Use a cloth at Kind Café

“We don’t have paper napkins or any single-use items at all at the café,” says Emerman. “The visual poster over the cloth napkins explains that we’re trying to bring a ‘kinder’ café experience to Vancouver. It’s been amazing and very well received.”

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Robin Roenker

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