12th July 2022 •
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?
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.