Almost all businesses, and especially consumer facing brands, are under increasing pressure to become more sustainable and prove to their audiences that they are making credible and solid efforts towards that goal.
But the fear of greenwashing, referred to as ‘Green Hushing’, often prevents companies from speaking up. This stops businesses from communicating about sustainability for fear of being shamed and criticized in public. Ironically, this phenomenon actually hurts consumers by limiting their access to the sustainability information they need to make their choices.
So how can you ensure that you do communicate your efforts and open up to your customers, without being seen as inauthentic?
Above all else, transparency and humility will allow you to be true to your customers and your goals. For everything else, below are the most important steps to follow.
1. Is your house in order?
Before deciding to communicate about sustainability, either internally or externally, make sure you are aware of the full impact of your company’s activities (not only environmental but also societal - your firm’s impact on people in and around the company). You must have at least an initial strategy in place before you consider communicating.
2. What are your blind spots?
Every company has them, but you can only start managing them once you are clear about what they are. Be honest in your assessment and then place your blind spots in clear view.
3. Why does sustainability matter to you?
Why are you thinking about sustainability? How does it link to your company’s goals and values? In many cases your sustainability activities might be linked to the company’s long-term survival but, equally, it might not be so obvious, so be sure to articulate your vision with your internal (board and employees) and external stakeholders (customers and suppliers).
4. What is your baseline?
You need a starting point - a thorough analysis of the business and its operations today. List what needs to be changed and consider today’s status the first step on your journey towards becoming a sustainable company. Leave no stone unturned to ensure a smoother ride.
5. Your goals
Set science-based targets that link back to your overall vision and strategy, then ensure buy-in from your internal stakeholders before communicating externally.
6. Make the first step
YPrioritize your most important issues - i.e. the changes you can make that will ensure the biggest step change and have the deepest positive impact. You cannot do it all at once, but…
7. … set a clear path towards your ultimate vision
Develop a clear plan for all your goals and share it with all your stakeholders. Internally first (board and employees) and then externally (customers and suppliers).
Make sure your plan is tied to a realistic timeline that will allow you to track, communicate and celebrate improvements on a regular basis.
9. Become a publisher
Your web presence will allow you to talk directly to your consumers so make the most of channels like social media. Talk to the media and be present on stage when your topic is being discussed, but of course equally make sure that all your announcements are backed up with tangible actions and document these on your platform. Owned media, such as your blog, give you the space to explain more complex matters, as well as communicate about your efforts in a regular and transparent way.
9. Celebrate each milestone
Becoming a sustainable business is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s going to take time to reach your ambitious goals, so make sure you create moments of celebration for all your stakeholders as often as you can.
We would be happy to support you in creating your sustainability concept and guide you through the individual steps, as required.
Photo: Elizabeth Jamieson (unsplash)