Keeping Everyone Informed

photo windmill field sunflowers

Photo by Gustavo Quepon via Unsplash.

My last two posts about sustainability communications and what sustainability is have sparked a lot of offline conversations. I’m glad to see that you’re all as intrigued by this as I’ve been.

The most common questions that arise? What do you need to communicate? And who are you communicating to? There are several answers, but I’ll do a quick overview of each.

Setting Policies

Policies are at the core of any company’s sustainability efforts. For most companies, these policies fall within the overall code of conduct that employees must abide by. But many are moving towards individual and more detailed policies regarding diversity, human rights, and labor rights, as well as donations and charitable giving. Together, they address the company’s overall commitment to sustainability.

Internal Communications

This ties into the policies and expectations mentioned above. Employees are expected to meet a set of expectations, and internal communications reinforce that message to build understanding and engagement.

One area of internal communications could include posters or badge stickers that reinforce key messages from the code of conduct and related policies. This provides a continual reminder of the company’s commitment to meeting certain goals, and can also provide resources for whistleblower lines for reporting non-compliance.

Internal communications is also responsible for demonstrating how the company is meeting those targets. For example, if the company goals included using 100% renewable energy, and 50% recycled materials by 2020, an annual or quarterly report would show the progress towards those goals.

Marketing

We see sustainability-themed marketing all the time: 100% organic! Made from 85% recycled materials! But how do companies tell a bigger story about their sustainability efforts? Even if you’re not a fan of the food, most people know about the Chipotle Food With Integrity story. Why? Because the message is communicated on chip bags and drink cups that their customers read while eating. They’ve done an excellent job of making sustainability and local sourcing a large part of their marketing.

Ikea has a comprehensive People and Planet initiative. Not only have their products shifted to sustainable textiles and wood, and energy-efficient lighting, they also have a foundation that invests large sums of money into climate action initiatives. And they’ve done an excellent job with their sustainability communications, as you can see from their 2016 report.

Investors

While the marketing department is telling the story of the sustainability initiative, the investor community wants to see hard numbers. This is where companies present data, analysis, and explanations about how their efforts are not cost centers, but wise business choices that improve both the planet and the company’s bottom line.

Investors expect companies to take leading roles in sustainability, even in the absence of government regulation. Sustainable companies have a stronger market position for the future, mitigating supply chain volatility caused by natural disasters, limited resources, or price fluctuations.

Bringing It All Together

These are complicated topics that have legal implications (policies); require an engaging, not heavy-handed tone (internal communications); resonate with customers (marketing); and deliver the data and analysis that show business leadership (investors).

What’s the common thread in all of this? Communications. Companies need to invest in strong sustainability communications plans that serve the needs of all constituents.

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