After you have identified who your external stakeholders are and thought about how you should engage with them. But how are you going to share and review your strategy (with the outside world) and why is it so important to do so?
Why is communication so important?
Communication is both the process by which information is sent from one place or person to another and the exchange of information that can result in an understanding. It is your opportunity to tell someone what you are doing and how you are going to do it and why.
Communicating your sustainability strategy provides you with the chance to engage and give meaning to all of your stakeholders, it helps build relationships and differentiate you as a company. Let’s face it, who is going to read the sustainability strategy if you don’t draw your audience towards it, make it easy to understand and ensure that it is relevant?
How can you do that?
1. The first step is to define sustainability and your organisational focus
Ask yourself what does sustainability mean for your business? Sustainability can mean different things to different people so having that transparency and clarity is an important first step on your communications journey.
This is particularly important to avoid greenwashing which Sam explores in depth in his article Greenwashing: What is it, and how do you avoid it? The term “greenwashing” has come to encompass anything a business says or does which portrays their product or services as more eco-friendly than they are in reality. Whilst at the same time, as Dave points out in his article, walking the line between greenwashing and conspicuous silence can be tricky for brands. So don’t go too far the other way.
2. Make sure you humanise your strategy
Sustainability can often be a complex subject to grasp which places extra importance on your content. You should write specifically for your audience, avoid jargon, keep it simple, specific, readable, and appealing. You want to help them visualise what you are trying to say and make it relatable to them and their lives. Strong images and infographics can help here.
Note, you might need to adapt content depending on your audience as there is likely to be different messages for suppliers versus your customers.
3. Stay on brand and true to your organisational culture
It is important when developing your communications that you keep it true to your brand and succinct, avoid any clichés and be honest. Your sustainability strategy should be able to sit alongside your marketing and not feel out of place. In fact, it should be embedded into your overall marketing strategy. We talk about how sustainability should be integrated into everyone’s role internally in a previous mini-series.
4. Don’t be afraid to soft launch your strategy externally
Piloting or breaking the project into digestible blocks and smaller goals can help keep your sustainability strategy relevant whilst also providing feedback to ensure proof of concept and make necessary adjustments. One way of facilitating this could be mini workshops with your key audiences e.g. customers or suppliers. This is your opportunity to start the conversation and test your messaging, have you got it right, are you missing anything?
5. Prioritise and set yourself targets
It is important to think long, short and medium term when it comes to your sustainability strategy. If you are not sure how to prioritise actions/targets into these categories then evaluate your targets against their importance versus impact. This is often identified by a materiality analysis which is a method to identify and prioritise the issues that are most important to an organisation and its stakeholders (1). We talk about this within the people aspect of this mini-series.
Once done, make sure you create and share your simplified visual timeline so progress can be tracked alongside it.
6. Provide regular updates on progress and make them easy to find
Your sustainability strategy should be a living and breathing document. As such your progress should be easily noticeable and regularly updated for your external stakeholders. This can be done through your website, your social media or news pages.
If progress isn’t going as well as you had planned, or your plans change, don’t be afraid to communicate this, honesty is the best policy.
Why do all of this?
As with implementing your strategy internally it is important to remember that just having a sustainability strategy isn’t enough, it needs to be a strategy that all stakeholders can truly understand, relate to, live and breathe.
Doing this has many benefits. New research has found that 77% of organisations report that their sustainability strategy is having a positive impact on employee engagement and retention (2). It is also impacting funding according to an Investec report with 62 per cent of venture fund managers saying environment, social and governance ESG or ethical factors have been significant contributors to the decision not to invest in one or more companies. This has increased from 55% before Covid(3).