A guide to communicating sustainability
December 4, 2023
Brands are under continual pressure from customers and other stakeholders to have a clear position on sustainability, one backed up by actions and words. To stay relevant in their markets, companies must deliver clear messaging tailored to each of their audiences and communicate progress against any published sustainability goals. This is a sensitive area, one where brands can easily slip up, fall foul of ‘greenwashing’, or appear to be too self-serving.
Communicating sustainability is the topic of FINN Partners’ latest white paper. It considers what is meant by sustainability, and how it impacts brand reputation, stakeholder loyalty and business success. The paper provides ten top tips for communicating sustainability and takes a deep dive into what this means in manufacturing and financial services.
According to the World Economic Forum with Accenture, organisations with, “deeply embedded sustainability management practices outperform peers by 21% on both profitability (as measured by EBITDA), and 21% higher environmental and societal outcomes.”
Meanwhile, a HSBC global survey of over 10,000 businesses showed that companies expect commercial benefit from sustainability – 86% of companies expected sales growth over the next year from a greater focus on sustainability. Additionally, they anticipated benefits for employee wellbeing (37%), talent recruitment (28%), attracting investment (30%) and enhanced corporate reputation (32%).
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is integral to how a company does business and to its purpose, mission and values. Each organisation must understand its environmental and societal impact, establish its own ESG position and be clear on this through its communications. How well it achieves this can impact brand reputation, stakeholder loyalty and business success.
Tips for communicating your sustainability strategy
Undoubtedly, the way companies define, plan and measure sustainability has grown, from early beginnings around environmental impact to a sustainable way of behaving, economically and ethically.
Sustainability is an emotive issue and one that will hurt a brand if positioned incorrectly. ‘Greenwashing’ can damage companies just as unsustainable practices can.
Communicating sustainability is therefore about more than being visibly sustainable. Communications must convey the ESG ethos that drives a company, be transparent about sustainability aims, objectives and progress, and be consistent and long-term.
For these reasons, FINN Partners’ 10 top tips for communicating sustainability include being:
- Sincere: communicating sustainability isn’t about point-scoring or winning fans through virtue signalling. Audiences will see through ESG publicity stunts. A sustainability strategy must be about bringing about real change
- Clear: sustainability can mean many things, and different things to different people. Avoid woolly promises, jargon and non-specifics. Define the goals and the actions and be consistent in language
- Action-led: each communication should have a goal, for example to encourage customers to engage with a sustainability initiative to bring about actual change
- Informative: products or services with a genuine environmental benefit appeal to an eco-conscious market so do communicate sustainability but do it responsibly. Back up your ESG campaign with detailed information that explains your actions, their objectives and the issues behind the actions
- Invested: put your money where your mouth is! Sponsor innovation, R&D and projects aiming to solve a sustainability issue affecting your company/industry.
For the full set of tips, download our white paper.
You can also learn about FINN Partners’ work in this area on our sustainability and ESG practice pages.