Every organisation needs an environment, social and governance (ESG) strategy these days. From startups to large companies, gone are the days of an ESG strategy being nice to have – it is now an integral part of how we do business, and something that stakeholders expect. With many organisations already having ESG initiatives implemented into the core of their business, the next step is to share the message and communicate that ESG strategy to your stakeholders.
Customers, investors, employees and other stakeholders are invested in how the business operates and its effect on people and the planet. An integrated sustainability communications strategy ensures that you are effectively showcasing the good work you are doing in the ESG space, to both internal audiences and outside the business.
By aligning with their values, effective sustainability communications create loyalty with existing customers and employees, and attract investors and potential talent to the business. Evidence shows that value alignment is one of the most important reasons for a potential employee to look at a role.
Why you need to communicate sustainability initiatives
Whether you’re a small business or a larger-scale company, showcasing your sustainability initiatives and credentials can unlock some incredible benefits for your organisation. Businesses that are already doing great work in the sustainability space should share their impact to differentiate themselves among other competitors.
A well-executed sustainability communications strategy allows you to drive change internally, from engaging employees and boosting staff retention to attracting new talent who align with your company’s values. From a consumer perspective, sustainability communications attract new consumers, building positive brand affinity. Both corporate and individual investors are increasingly looking for both good returns and good business from the organisations they choose to invest in.
Embed the strategy throughout the company
With the increasing expectations on businesses to implement ESG strategies, it is not enough to simply have a standalone ESG team within your organisation. It will be most effective if your strategy is implemented throughout the entire company. This can be done by incorporating sustainability objectives within your overall business strategy. Sustainability needs to be implemented at all levels of your organisation, from an executive and board level to the bottom line.
Employees are your first and most important advocates. It is vital that they understand your sustainability strategy for when they communicate externally with friends, family, colleagues or the general public about where they work and what they do.
Once these initiatives are deeply understood by your team, they will be able to effectively tell your sustainability story.
Build a bridge between sustainability and marketing teams
The biggest roadblock for organisations that are already doing the great sustainability work is building a bridge between the sustainability teams and the marketing and communications teams. As sustainability communications are relatively new to many businesses, many don’t have fully developed communications strategies to rely on.
Organisations need to ensure that their teams are working collaboratively and including sustainability initiatives in their marketing and communications. To build this bridge between teams, you can ensure that they have overlapping objectives, goals and metrics. The marketing and communications team needs to implement a strategy that includes amplifying the sustainability efforts, while creating meaning for consumers and stakeholders.
It’s also important that there is space for the sustainability team to jump on ad hoc opportunities, especially if something arises in the media or social channels where they can join in the conversation.
Keep messaging simple and meaningful
There are many complexities around ESG for businesses, so it is important to simplify your message for consumers. Endless streams of information, data and analytics can be mind-numbing for even the most conscientious consumer. So breaking down the data into digestible information that your audience can easily absorb is vital for your ESG communications strategy. Using infographics for data visualisation and video content for sharing your business sustainability story are some engaging ways to communicate complex information to your audience.
When the average consumer hears a phrase like ‘net zero’, it can have little to no personal meaning to them. Whereas when they hear a phrase like ‘buying local’, it has significantly more substance, as it packages the benefit in a more clearly defined message. Businesses need to understand what their audience values, and showcase their credentials in a meaningful way.
Cut out the greenwashing
Authenticity is key to engaging both internal and external audiences. Paying lip-service to ESG initiatives isn’t enough when it comes to driving both change and value. One way to ensure your sustainability efforts are legitimate and authentic is to use one of the global sustainability frameworks such as B Corp, which measures a company’s entire social and environmental impact. When a business becomes B Corp Certified, it means it meets the highest standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency on a holistic range of factors, holding the organisation accountable across all operations.
Phil Brown is a partner and adviser at strategic business consultancy The Growth Activists. He has headed up content and strategy departments for several agencies and has also held senior communications and strategy roles across a diverse range of organisations including big business, federal and state governments, and not-for-profits.