Having effective strategies around ESG communications is essential for companies to build loyalty, attract new customers and assure stakeholders. But in recent history we have witnessed companies being called out for greenwashing, social washing and even rainbow washing. Therefore, the moral of the story is that there are right ways and wrong ways to communicate your sustainability efforts. The challenge is the guardrails are not obvious and they have potential negative consequences. This has many communications departments walking on eggshells and second guessing their ideas. But the key to success is actually hiding in the data.
With greenwashing scandals appearing in the media on a regular basis, the public has made it clear that false claims will not be tolerated. For companies who are ahead of the curve and are already making changes, they may feel as though they are between a rock and hard place. Afterall you heard the call from consumers and stakeholders and you took the initiative get started on the process. You made the shift and now you have to find a way to share your progress that doesn’t undo all of the good you were attempting to build. The answers are in your data, but first you should Get the Checklist!
- Define your audience and objectives for ESG communications
- Research your stakeholders
- Develop key messages
- Choose the right channels
- Measure and evaluate your results
- Build from the baseline
- FAQ on ESG communications
- What is greenwashing?
- What is social washing?
- What is rainbow washing?
- What is a sustainability charter?
- Why is communication important for sustainability?
- What does ESG stand for?
- How do you communicate an ESG strategy?
- How does communication promote sustainability?
- What are sustainable communications strategies?
- What is ESG reporting software?
- What is a sustainable business model?
- What is the GRI?
- What is SASB?
- What is IIRC?
- What are the UN SDGs?
- What is the IFRS?
Define your audience and objectives for ESG communications
Before you can begin any marketing endeavor, it is important to clearly identify both the target audience and objectives. These are common first steps for any marketing campaign. Whether you use the Know Your Customer (KYC) or Buyer Persona methodology there is certain information that you will need to gather. You will want to know who they are, age, gender, location and other info which describes your perfect customer. Then you will want to find the challenges they face, and how your specific product or service can fulfil their needs. In this case, how sustainability fits into their lives. Your business objectives could be about brand building, appealing to a new audience, capturing a new demographic, repairing past relationships or introducing new products and services which are sustainable. But if you clearly define this section of the journey, the story will practically write itself. If you don’t know where to begin, then Get the Checklist!
Research your stakeholders
To build long-term relationships with stakeholders, it is important to understand them. Tis may seem like a Duh moment, but when was the last time you identified all of your stakeholder groups? And when was the last time that actually asked them for insights? Just to be clear, a shareholder is a person that owns stock within a given company, whereas a stakeholder is an individual or group that benefits from that company’s services. Stakeholder interests include customers, suppliers, creditors, local communities, employees and anyone with an interest in the success of the organization. If you operate on other continents, then your business dealings are having an effect there too. The sustainability of an organization is intricately linked to its stakeholders. When all obligations to those stakeholders are met, the organization will see long-term sustainability. Therefore it is important to identify and listen to your stakeholders.
Develop key messages
An important element of any sustainability strategy is the development and communication of key messages. If you have yet to read the previous section, stop now and reread it! Many businesses fail due to their neglect in this very area – do not let yours be one of them. Without a solid plan for sharing sustainability messages with stakeholders, an organization is only increasing its risk of failure. The objective is to be embraced by all parties involved by developing effective key messages. Crafting clear messaging around initiatives is an essential part of any organization’s sustainability implementation process. This is what will build trust and loyalty. The key is to start with something small that will resonate with your audience. You will find it in your collected data points.
Choose the right channels
Since sustainability is a key part of successful marketing today, selecting the right channels for your message is essential. Again, if you KYC’d your buyer persona, then you should already have a pretty good idea of where your audience is online. Since every platform is different, it is important to tailor your message to the media. Or, as an alternative, you might inject some excitement into your message and surprise the recipient by delivering it on upcycled materials with an attached carbon credit. A message in a message. Regardless, it is essential to discover creative approaches to disrupting their routine while delivering your value statement. But it all begins with the value in your data. If you are guessing, you are in trouble!
Measure and evaluate your results
Two important actions for effective communications strategies are measuring and evaluating results. By gathering relevant data and insights against benchmarks, organizations can verify the effectiveness of their sustainability goals. This will also help identify areas needing improvement which will drive your efforts forward. It is not as much about maximizing value as it is about getting it right. The two will converge eventually, but it is not only about reaching the destination, because you never know when things are going to change. Success is not measured in the same ways anymore. But there are new easy, cost-effective solutions which will help you measure, manage and report non-financial KPIs for your strategic objectives. Get the Checklist!
Build from the baseline
Now that you understand the key elements in creating a successful marketing strategy, what’s next? Take action! Put into practice the steps above and bring your vision to life. To set you on the right path, we have put together a list of questions that investors and stakeholders use to evaluate companies on sustainability efforts. It is designed to give management a view from the stakeholders perspective. But what you really need to get started is to set your baseline. So, Get the Checklist!
FAQ on ESG communications
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing practice aimed at presenting a product or service as more environmentally friendly than it actually is. Businesses adopt “green” practices, but use marketing to promote the product in a way that exaggerates the extent of their eco-friendly efforts. This gives customers an inaccurate perception that the product is better for the environment than it actually is. The practice is not only unethical, but also provides a disservice to eco-conscious consumers who want to make greener choices. And in some cases it increases the damage being done to the environment.
What is social washing?
Social washing is a concept that has become more widely discussed in the business world recently. It is the idea that companies make external efforts to appear more socially responsible and ethical in order to improve their reputation. But without addressing any of their actual internal policies or procedures. Practices such as donating money after a public relations disaster or implementing token diversity measures are considered social washing. It gives off the illusion that corporations are taking meaningful steps to better society while still furthering their business interests. In many cases, those who engage in social washing eventually have to face harsher criticism and greater scrutiny. It is a reminder of why businesses should strive for long term progress rather than superficial reforms.
What is rainbow washing?
Rainbow washing, like social and green washing, is a marketing tactic used by companies and organizations. It is to falsely portray themselves as welcoming and accepting of the LGBT+ community as a way to increase their own popularity. This often does more harm than good, as it fails to address any of the real issues faced by the LGBT+ community. In turn, this often distances these same companies from any actual substantial action that could benefit this group.
What is a sustainability charter?
A sustainability charter is a voluntary agreement that organizations make to uphold social, economic and environmental principles. Such charters often comprise of a vision statement outlining what the organization wishes to achieve in terms of sustainability. This is followed by specific actions, commitments and deadlines the organization must adhere to in order to progress towards that goal. A successful charter provides the company with an action plan to reach a more sustainable benchmark. It helps to ensure that all members of the organization are embracing the commitment and striving together to facilitate sustainable development.
Why is communication important for sustainability?
Sustainability requires practical solutions to enable the world’s most pressing social and environmental issues. Communication plays a critical role in sustainability by allowing us to share ideas, collaborate and work together to make real longterm change. Effective communications help build relationships between stakeholders, including businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations. This results in more robust actions that are better aligned with sustainability initiatives. It raises awareness of the challenges we face and provides opportunities for meaningful dialogue. Effectively reversing two centuries of unsustainable practices it not a sprint but a marathon.
What does ESG stand for?
ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance. It is a type of investment strategy that focuses on ethical, social consciousness, and sound governance. ESG investors and stakeholders search beyond traditional financial metrics and focus on non-financial aspects. These include how a company performs in terms of environmental stewardship or discrimination policies in the workplace. By investing in responsible companies, ESG funds hope to generate returns while also creating positive social impact. There are regulatory requirements which cover many aspects of corporate governance but ESG standards are more stringent when it comes to evaluating non-financial metrics. This helps investors make more informed decisions while promoting transparent business practices, and sustainable products.
How do you communicate an ESG strategy?
Communicating your ESG strategy effectively requires a clear plan and should be built from the ground up, using data. Do your research, find your audience, use their channels and start small.
How does communication promote sustainability?
Communication is a key component of promoting sustainability in any organization. By connecting the right people with the right messages and resources, stakeholders can work together to identify and address sustainability issues. These can have a positive impact the company’s operations, its local communities, and even global ecology. Effective communication also helps to ensure that all resources are allocated appropriately to drive bottom line results while adhering to sustainable practices. With an effective communication strategy in place, organizations have been shown to become more resilient and successful in the long-term. This success is especially true at the grass roots level as it aligns all members of the organization.
What are sustainable communications strategies?
While there are many ways to execute sustainable communication strategies, they should focus on delivering messages that create a positive, holistic impact. This includes utilizing socially and environmentally conscious materials and messages. Knowing your customer or buyer persona are paramount to creating effective communications. The key is to remain mindful of the impacts on society and the environment while successfully engaging with audiences. Additionally, they increase efficiency and brand loyalty by demonstrating respect for social and environmental values.
What is ESG reporting software?
ESG reporting software is a powerful tool allowing companies to compile, maintain and report their business’ environmental, social and governance performance. With the right guidance, software can support your sustainability efforts by organizing your data and mapping out a plan. Thanks to Artificial Intelligence, highly complex correlations and cross-referencing between numerous datasets can be conducted automatically. Ultimately, this can ease the onerous tasks and hasten the process along, freeing up managers to concentrate on their areas of expertise. ESG reporting software can integrate with existing analytics, accounting, HR and CRM platforms allowing organizations an even deeper level of understanding in the context of their current performance. Ultimately this type of software saves time and resources while ensuring accuracy when it comes to making well informed ESG decisions.
What is a sustainable business model?
A sustainable business model is one that is delivering long-term value, taking into consideration its environmental and social responsibilities. It ensures all stakeholders are taken into account when developing a strategy to reduce risk and maximize profitability while still protecting natural resources and adhering to ethical values.
What is the GRI?
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the most widely used sustainability reporting framework. It helps organizations to assess their performance on a range of social, environmental and economic indicators. It also encourages transparency and accountability in order to improve overall performance.
What is SASB?
The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) is a non-profit organization that develops and maintains standards for corporate disclosure of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) information. These standards are used by publicly traded companies to report on their performance in the areas of sustainability and provide investors with greater insight into their operations.
What is IIRC?
The International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) is a global non-profit organization that promotes integrated reporting. Integrated reporting is a way for companies to provide investors with comprehensive information about their performance and strategy, including financial, environmental, social and governance information.
What are the UN SDGs?
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals created by the United Nations to promote economic, social and environmental sustainability around the world. The SDGs provide organizations with a comprehensive framework to measure progress in these areas and help them create strategies for achieving positive outcomes.
What is the IFRS?
The Integrated Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) is an international standard for financial reporting. It provides a common language for companies to communicate their economic, environmental and social performance to investors.
Research & Curation
Dean Emerick is a curator on sustainability issues with ESG The Report, an online resource for professionals focusing on ESG principles. Their primary goal is to provide resources to help middle market companies, SMEs and SMBs transition to a more sustainable future.