As we wrap up Earth Month this year (and yes, it’s an entire month, not just one day on April 22), we at Stern are wrapping up another 30 days of special focus on sustainability communications on behalf of our clients. This time of year is always an important occasion to highlight and showcase efforts around improving one’s environmental impact and commitments; the public expects it!
But many people might also be thinking “ok, but what about the rest of the year?”. As more consumers, investors and other stakeholders have become conscious of environmental and social issues and how companies interact with them, there’s also been a growing sense of cynicism or suspicion about how much these organizations are actually doing. This can become a problem for organizations if they seem to be “greenwashing” – whether it’s a high-profile investor challenge to a corporate sustainability strategy or negative commentary on social media platforms.
This is why sustainability communications have become such an integral part of organizations’ broader public relations strategies. We work with many clients who have sought our experience and expertise in framing communications around what they’re doing on sustainability, and it’s work we greatly enjoy doing given its purpose-driven nature. But what are the best practices we advise on sustainability communications – and when do we think an organization should say more (or less)?
Here are our top three tips for effective and meaningful sustainability communications:
Proactively Engage Stakeholders – And Not Just During Earth Month
Too often, organizations’ sustainability communications fall into two broad categories: obligatory “feel good” statements (especially around Earth Month) and defensive reactions to public criticism. An organization that addresses sustainability only when necessary isn’t doing a great job in inspiring public confidence. That’s why it’s important to ensure that you are constantly communicating with stakeholders, from customers to employees to investors, on sustainability efforts and ideas, and also encouraging dialogue and feedback. If you’re showcasing what you’re doing on a regular basis, there will be less of a sense that your annual Earth Day message shouldn’t be taken seriously. This can take the form of social media campaigns focused on sustainability geared to both internal and external audiences, as well as placing executives in important media outlets via interviews or contributed content to talk about initiatives, goals and progress, showing that sustainability is always on your mind and a part of your business strategy.
Focus on Where You’re Making the Biggest Impact
Many companies need to say more about sustainability, but what they say is important. An organization that starts talking about sustainability in overly broad and ambitious terms can set itself up for criticism when actions don’t match words. That’s why every organization should identify the specific area of operations in which it has made or is able to make a positive impact – and be sure to highlight it in all sustainability communications. This doesn’t mean you should let your efforts slide on other issues just because you’re good on one thing; but it’s wise to draw attention to wherever the most progress is possible or actually happening.
Remember That Sustainability Communications Aren’t a Substitute for Sustainability
Finally, it’s important to remember that sustainability communications can only succeed when you are actually working toward sustainable goals. Good public relations can amplify your efforts and bolster your reputation – but they won’t carry the burden of public scrutiny of harmful business practices. Be authentic and transparent in communication around sustainability.
If you have a sustainability story to tell that will help you gain customers or improve relations with employees or investors, be sure to check our services!