Fundamentals

How to Communicate Corporate Sustainability

Your company has jumped on board the sustainability bandwagon? Great progress! So you probably already started to implement a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy into your overall business plan where you set clear goals, reviewed your supply chain, products or services and mapped out a plan to improve your environmental impact. You made changes and are now excited and ready to start sharing this with the world. But why is sustainability communication important and what exactly does it take to succeed when communicating your sustainability and climate action efforts?

Why is sustainability communication important?

Companies today are not only expected to have a corporate sustainability strategy in place, but to also openly and transparently communicate about their sustainability efforts. Sustainability communication used to be predominantly driven by compliance needs. Today, we see companies completely rethink their communication approaches and share their sustainability stories in an engaging way with a broader audience. In fact, a recent survey conducted by KPMG has shown that nowadays 80% of N100 companies are already reporting on sustainability.

So, what benefits is communicating your sustainability efforts actually bringing to your business?

To begin with, it can help to increase your competitive advantage compared to other businesses by taking on a different stand on ESG (ESG stands for Environmental, Social & Governance) issues than your competitors. Ice cream producer Ben & Jerry’s is a great example here: Next to using fair-trade ingredients in their products, they also try to contribute to society by employing disadvantaged people in their factories. With their different approach to ESG issues, they set themselves apart from other companies. Thus, with the help of sustainability communication, you can vocalise your efforts to differentiate your company.

Nonetheless, communicating your corporate sustainability efforts can not only influence the way your customers regard you, but it can also increase your attractiveness as an employer. According to the Cone Communications Millennial employee engagement study, 76% of millennials stated that the sustainability agenda of a company was an important factor for them when choosing an employer. Many of our customers actually tell us that they often get asked in interviews whether they are aware of their carbon footprint and what actions they have in place to improve it.

You see, drafting up a good sustainability communication strategy is a useful way of showing the progress you’ve made on sustainability commitments while it can also help you to drive internal change, increase employer engagement and stakeholder’s interest in your company.

6 Best Practice Tips for Effective Sustainability Communications

Align your strategies & Walk the talk

Before you go out and start telling the world about your efforts, you should first align your communication strategy with your long-term sustainability business strategy. Getting all your employees on board and informing them about your long-term goals and the bigger picture is a very important step, so that you can all work collectively towards a shared goal. Yet, it is important to evaluate your actions before actually communicating them to the public, since your communication efforts will only be rewarded if they appear to be credible and honest.

Here, actions often speak louder than words - so show your audience your concrete efforts and take them on the journey with you instead of just voicing it. Outdoor brand Patagonia, for example, has mastered sustainability communication. With sustainability being at the core of their business model, they clearly show the customer their commitment by giving them insights on their website into their production and supply chain, as well as their social and environmental impact.

Patagonia clearly shows their sustainability efforts on their website

But even if sustainability is not the core of your business (yet), displaying clear action paths and strategies in your communication will add authenticity and credibility to your sustainability efforts.

Honesty and transparency are key...

... so don’t exaggerate your sustainability claims (or worse: spread false claims), or you run the risk of getting accused of greenwashing. Instead, show the world your honest efforts, for example by sharing your footprint and emission hotspots of your business. How was the carbon footprint calculated? What are your next steps? And in which areas should you still improve?

After all, you are not trying to show how perfect your company already is, but how your efforts contribute to your journey to become more sustainable in the long run. The British retailer Marks and Spencers set a good example here by communicating honestly about their failure to meet initially set targets. Along with that statement, they also informed the public why that had occurred and what precisely they were planning to change that. With their honesty and transparency, they set a good sample case for other companies to share their progress, including failures, more openly.

Check your claims!

This one goes hand in hand with the previous point. These days, consumers are more savvy than ever, and they know how to check whether your claims are true or not. Therefore, it is best to double-check whether all facts and claims have been presented correctly.

Moreover, make sure that your claims are meaningful and not vaguely formulated. While labels like “green”, “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” may sound good in theory, they don’t have a clear definition and therefore don’t actually mean anything if not supported by data or other types of proof.

Case in point: In Germany, for example, the Central Office for Combating Unfair Competition (Wettbewerbszentrale) recently sued several companies that would claim their products, such as premium heating oil or plastic rubbish bags, to be carbon neutral without providing any context and background information to such claims. In order to avoid such a backlash, always back up your claims and use trusted seals or certifications for external validation of your efforts.

Simplicity is your best friend

Keep in mind that sustainability and carbon management may be a rather new territory for your audience, especially when digging into the details. With this in mind, make sure to keep it simple and concise, provide explanations for different terms used, and ideally visualise as much as possible to help out your audience.

Customers might find it hard to understand what exactly 40 kilogrammes of CO2 emissions entail but they will probably have a much easier time when this amount is compared to a two-hour journey in the car. So, illustrate your carbon footprint with everyday life examples so that your stakeholders can understand it more easily. Also, try to guide them where to find more information about a certain topic, for example by linking to your website or an interesting article.

Be positive!

Nowadays, negative news regarding climate change are dominating the news channels and can be quite overwhelming for many people. So, when bringing out your message, try to focus on the positive aspects of sustainability and share your progress and achievements. Showing this positive side of your efforts can motivate your employees and customers when they see what you have already accomplished.

And last but not least - Don’t be afraid to get help!

Do you feel overwhelmed and unsure where to get started? Especially if your company has just started thinking about how to communicate your sustainability efforts, it can be daunting to do so. Therefore, don’t shy away from asking for help.

This is where we come in: At Planetly, we can not only help you with the analysis, reduction and offsetting of your carbon footprint, but also support you with best practices in sustainability communication. Feel free to reach out to us to get started.

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