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Marketing and Comms
Building Trust Through Your Sustainability Narrative

We ranked 1K companies on transparency, leadership and connectivity in conveying their sustainability narrative. Here are 4 insights into how global companies are successfully communicating their ESG efforts.

New research from the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business has found that US consumers will reward businesses that practice sustainability; but a Bentley/Gallup poll shows widespread distrust because brands are falling short of their sustainability commitments.

What does the discrepancy mean? That US consumers will reward sustainable brands — but brands must first earn their trust. And in order to do that, businesses need a better playbook.

First off, let’s state the obvious: Sustainability is not a buzzword — it’s a vital issue intertwined with the future of the planet; and US consumers are willing to buy from, work for and invest in sustainable businesses. By far, most younger US adults say they’d switch jobs to work at an organization that has a greater positive impact on the world. But for too long, businesses have taken a check-the-box mentality when reporting their own sustainability commitment. To build trust, companies need to embrace a more rigorous and thoughtful approach from the top-down.

As part of our Sustainability 100 Connect.IQ Special Report, IDX analyzed 1,000 corporate and Investor Relations websites and ranked companies based on their transparency, leadership and connectivity in conveying their sustainability narrative. By examining the 100 top-scoring companies, we were able to compile insights as to how global companies are successfully communicating their ESG efforts and found that:

Transparency and materiality are essential.

Transparency means communicating meaningfully and consistently — not just with an annual summary but throughout the year. It involves addressing the most material issues your business faces, your plans to tackle them and your performance against set targets.

For instance, we found that companies including Landsec and AT&T demonstrate their sustainability strategy and materiality assessments effectively. They provide clear, easy-to-understand explanations of their commitments and performance — aligning their sustainability actions with their business goals.

C-suite engagement is paramount.

Your company's leaders must champion sustainability initiatives, both within and outside the organization. By leveraging the voices of your C-suite and senior executives, you can add credibility to your sustainability narrative.

Intel CEO Patrick P. Gelsinger and SAP Chief Sustainability Officer Daniel Schmid are excellent examples of leaders who actively promote their commitment to sustainability through video messages and blog posts. Their personal narratives help connect the company's vision to its leaders' commitment.

Bridging internal and external efforts is key.

Connectivity is all about integrating sustainability into every aspect of your business — from internal operations to external partnerships. The UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework that many companies align with; but it's crucial to make these goals relevant to your specific business activities.

Companies including HSBC, Nestlé and Vodafone connect their sustainability goals with their overarching strategies — ensuring that their purpose guides both corporate and sustainability efforts. By clearly demonstrating your initiatives internally and externally, you can showcase your commitment to holistic sustainability.

Amplifying your sustainability story must be a priority.

Your website is your home base for sharing your sustainability narrative, but social media allows your brand to take its sustainability story to your audience in real time. Companies including Bayer, Microsoft and Unilever effectively utilize social media to expand their reach, respond to ESG issues, and tailor their messaging to different global audiences.

But remember, you must:

  • Be consistent. Make sustainability a regular part of your content schedule.

  • Be authentic. Showcase your genuine commitment to sustainability.

  • Use visuals. Visual content engages audiences more effectively.

  • Use relevant hashtags. Enhance your content's discoverability.

  • Be patient. Building trust and credibility takes time.

And lastly, embrace sustainability as a fundamental part of your corporate culture, strategy and communication efforts — that’s how you can best demonstrate your unwavering dedication to a more sustainable, equitable and ethical future.