Are your sustainability efforts going unnoticed?

 Planet earth and blue human eye
Planet earth and blue hman eye – “Elements of this image furnished by NASA”

There’s a lot of talk about sustainability in the business world. Business leaders are realising that they must take appropriate action to reduce their CO2 emissions and to contribute more positively to a net zero environment. Some businesses are more intentional than others – putting in place active changes and measures to reduce their impact and making clear commitments about how they will manage and run their businesses sustainably in the future.

Leaders also know that audiences are wising up – everyone from customers to investors now has an expectation that the business is taking sustainability seriously, committing to action and delivery. Above all they are looking for organisations that are doing, not just talking.

To build and maintain a leading position in your market, you need to make sure that your sustainability commitments are deliberately made part of every conversation and communication, providing a foundation to your business strategy. The last thing you need is to be accused of ‘greenwashing’ – the practice of suggesting you are doing a lot to support sustainability when actually your actions are small or even non-existent. So how can you make sure your sustainability approach gets noticed?

What are your audiences demanding?

Assuming you are taking the time to really listen to your stakeholders, what do they expect of you? What matters to them? Ask yourself, ‘How are we showing our stakeholders that we are genuinely making an effort and that our efforts are making a difference?’ Sustainability must be led from the top of the organisation. It’s imperative you demonstrate that your board genuinely cares about sustainability issues and is committed to making decisions that support a better way of doing things.

There are two main drivers for CMOs and other senior leaders:

  • Influence your organisation to think bigger. Take an unbiased overview of your current commitments and actions. How can you use your seat at the table to drive continued environmental, social & governance (ESG) commitment, measurement and change?
  • Authentically communicate so that people truly believe it. There’s already a lot of cynicism around ‘greenwashing’. Your challenge is to make this issue fundamental to everything you do and say – and to make your audiences believe in you and all you stand for.

Building the trust that you are true to your word takes time – you can’t be a sustainability hero overnight. Now is the time to assess your green credentials and check:

  • What are we doing now?
  • What are we planning to do?
  • Are there further steps we can take?
  • Do we have clear policies/commitments that others can see?
  • How are we currently communicating them?
  • How can we build authentic sustainability into our conversations?

Putting sustainability at the heart of your business strategy is a long game. It should be part of your marketing and communications strategy now, so that it becomes second nature to look at your decisions and campaigns from a sustainability point of view – to test everything to see if it makes the sustainability grade.

As part of this approach, you should take a step back and critique your marketing and communications from a sustainability point of view. This includes your approach to your whole marketing strategy, such as events, brand partnerships and sponsorships where your brand is highly visible.

For example, is direct mail still the best way to reach your audience? If so, are you managing your lists so you’re not wasting mail? Are you using recycled and recyclable materials – and encouraging recipients to make recycling or reuse choices? What about managing responses – do you have a sustainable solution?

For digital campaigns, are you sending the right message? Are you asking your customers to do something that might encourage them to make unsustainable choices? Are your giveaways sustainably sourced? Would your day-to-day activities and your campaigns pass a sustainability test?

This is a two-pronged approach: First, do your marketing and comms messages and materials reflect your ESG commitments all the time? And second, do the collateral pieces you produce meet those commitments? Balancing business marketing needs with an authentic sustainability message can be tricky, and so it requires serious thought and planning.

Sustainability as part of brand building

Your approach to ESG should also be part of your overall brand strategy – taking all the threads of your brand into consideration. How do your vision, mission and values reflect your sustainability and wider ESG approach? Do your key brand messages support your commitment to running an ethical, socially aware and sustainable organisation?

How do you want your audiences to think and feel about your business?

Building ESG into your brand takes:

  • A consistent approach
    This is Brand 101 stuff. You must be consistent in your approach and your messaging. The more people see that sustainability is part of your brand DNA, the more they will believe and accept that you’re doing what you say you’ll do.
  • Persistence
    Don’t let this subject go. Demonstrate that you take sustainability and the impact of your actions seriously. Make it part of all your conversations and make it clear that this is important to you and your entire organisation.
  • Ensuring messaging is fully integrated into your brand
    You may need to update some of your brand documents to make sure that everyone who communicates on behalf of your business is aware that sustainability is at the heart of what you do. Check all your campaigns and regular comms to make sure you’re putting the right messaging across. Don’t save sustainability for financial reporting or regulatory requirements. Make it part of your everyday brand approach.
  • Getting noticed – make a start
    Once you have agreed your sustainability commitments, build consistent communications around them. Review and revise your brand guidelines and messaging where relevant to integrate sustainability into all your brand work.

Over time, your audience will read, see and hear your position on being an ethical and sustainable business. This will build trust and demonstrate that you are determined to make a measurable difference. Be transparent and proactive. Don’t wait for questions about your approach; step up and talk about what you’re doing and why it matters to your business. This makes your conversations relevant and appealing to your audience – reinforcing the values of the company, helping people to see why they should choose to work with or buy from you. But let’s not forget, the biggest upshot of doing all this, is you will be an organisation that delivers positive change to the world.

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