Business sustainability initiatives have a communication problem.
Typically, companies publish a sustainability report which details all their plans, targets, and work so far. These reports take a significant amount of time and effort to produce – but often go unnoticed by customers.
It’s a wasted opportunity.
Consumers, investors, employees – they’re all actively looking for purpose-led and climate-friendly brands, and they’re way more likely to stay loyal to them when they come across them. But if they don’t know about your climate initiatives, they’re going to move on to another option.
On the other hand some companies take it to the other extreme, seeing their climate initiatives as a huge marketing and PR opportunity. This is all very well, but often this approach leads to hugely exaggerated eco credentials – greenwashing, in other words. And that could damage your brand in a big way.
So as you can see, getting sustainability communications right can be tricky.
How do you overcome these hurdles and successfully communicate business sustainability? Start by adhering to these 7 principles:
It’s crucial to tell the true, honest story of your climate journey to gain trust.
We’re all on a collective journey when it comes to responding to the climate emergency, and your customers are well aware of that. Making exaggerated or unsubstantiated claims is a sure-fire way to lose your audience’s trust and make them assume you’re simply greenwashing.
So, the #1 rule is to be open and transparent.
The research on trustworthy, evidence-based sustainability communication backs this up too, highlighting two key components as honesty and having good intentions.
Share the story of your journey so far, including:
Sharing your journey in this way hits all three of those components to gain trust – showing that you’ve done your research and put a lot of thought into how you’re approaching sustainability and have started making improvements towards that, whilst acknowledging that there’s more you could do to continue learning and improving.
Take design company IDEO for example.
They published a series of blogs on their website sharing their sustainability work. The first blog ‘You’ve just got to get started’ is an honest account of the start of their journey, highlighting that it is just that – a journey:
This is the kind of honest and transparent storytelling that gains trust – you can tell that IDEO are working on climate for the right reasons.
The blog series continues with more tangible information on their process and progress so far, including how they measured their own carbon footprint and how they’re working with Lune as a sustainability partner to offset their emissions in alignment with the Oxford Offsetting Principles.
The third key component highlighted in the research on evidence-based sustainability communication is expertise.
That means you need to be confident in the approach you’re taking. Sharing your motivations and the reasoning behind how you’re approaching climate impact (as highlighted in #1) is a big first step to this.
Beyond that, make sure you:
The business world loves buzzwords. So is the world of climate change.
Combining the two means there’s a lot of potential for communications full of jargon and buzzwords. Which could leave customers and stakeholders confused about what you’re actually talking about.
Plus, you need to be careful about the climate-related terms you use. Many of them are misused when nuances aren’t fully understood.
Terms like climate neutral, net zero, carbon negative etc have very specific meanings and implications – but you’ll often see businesses claiming to be ‘carbon neutral’ without providing evidence that aligns with the accepted definition of that term.
We’d suggest keeping the language you use in your sustainability communications super simple, so there’s no chance of misinterpretation.
Know your audience.
It’s a central principle of any marketing messaging – and that includes business sustainability communications.
Why do your audience care about your climate efforts? What’s in it for them?
If you’re a B2C company e.g. in the retail industry, maybe it means that your customers have the peace of mind of knowing that you’re ensuring their purchase won’t negatively impact the environment.
If you’re B2B, maybe it means that you’re making it easy for your customers to address their own climate impact and give their own customers climate-friendly options – a payments company offering a green payment option for merchants to include in their checkout process or a logistics company enabling merchants to automatically offset the emissions from product deliveries, for instance.
It might even be that you’ve been receiving direct feedback from your customers that they’d like a greener option. If so, reference that too.
Once you’ve cracked your messaging and the story of your climate journey, you need to make it visible.
Remember what we said about climate work in a silo? It’s a missed opportunity for increased impact, potential partnerships, and brand boosting.
… and they also have a sustainable logistics webpage highlighting how they can work with their customers on their climate impact too. Their merchants are also prompted with this information when they become Forto customers, making climate impact front and centre in their minds.
Telling your climate journey effectively means sharing updates on the regular about your progress – it shouldn’t be a one-off communication.
That’s why the best form of communication about climate is integrating messaging within the customer journey itself, so that there’s true visibility of the climate impact of your product or service and that your customers are engaged with how to address that.
Beyond that, ensure that for whatever communications you do put out about your business sustainability you agree with your team how often you’ll check and update those communications.
Even with these principles for successfully communicating business sustainability in hand, we know that the fear of getting it wrong and greenwashing can be intimidating, especially if you don’t have internal expertise on climate.
That’s where it can be incredibly valuable to work with sustainability partners that you trust. They can work with you to shape your messaging and communications, adding expertise and ensuring you don’t accidentally say the wrong thing.
For instance, at Lune we work with all our customers to ensure they’re comfortable with going to market with their climate initiatives – including 1:1 marketing support and providing templates and frameworks as a starting point.
Lune will offer trusted, high-quality carbon projects to Visa’s global network of merchants, banks, and partners – working together with a goal to scale climate action.
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Legislation requiring companies to report on sustainability – their environmental impact and the risks and opportunities facing the business – is upcoming across the globe, from the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive to the US proposed SEC climate disclosure rule.