When companies miscommunicate sustainability information, there is usually no malicious intent but poor internal communication. Your marketing team will want to shout from the rooftop how sustainable your business is; but in a rush to do so, it can harm your brand — the very thing they have vowed to protect.
The market is driving companies to be more transparent about their net-zero efforts. They are being asked by their customers, board members, investors, lenders, regulators and even their employees to disclose their plans on the role they will play in a low-carbon economy. As they forge their sustainability goals, research their options, map out their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategies; create ESG committees, assign budgets and explore carbon offsets, they must also make sure they effectively communicate their efforts.
For a business today, communicating how sustainable you are isn’t as simple as rewriting your mission statement or posting your newest sustainability report; it goes way beyond that. It needs to be a part of your company’s culture — an integral part of your brand’s story. It needs to engage your target audiences on all your marketing channels, make customers and investors take notice, and set you apart from your competition.
So, how should you communicate your ESG efforts? How do you achieve transparency?
Avoiding harm to your brand
The term “greenwashing” has been around for at least the last 20 years. As the world embraces the pursuit of a low-carbon economy; more sustainable practices; and a just, inclusive and equitable society, it is clear your company will need all its resources to come together to avoid sending out misleading ESG claims that contain vague language and incomplete data, as well as embellished benefits that are not quantified. Most of the time, when companies miscommunicate sustainability information, there is no genuine malicious intent but poor internal communication. Your marketing team will be enthusiastic about shouting from the rooftop how sustainable your business is; and in a rush to do so, it can cause your brand harm — which is the very thing your marketing team has vowed to protect.
So, how do you avoid being accused of greenwashing and harming your brand? Make sure your marketing team is included in your ESG efforts.
From announcing the purchase of offsets to publishing your sustainability report, integrating your marketing and sustainability teams is key to making sure you are true to your brand. It will also allow you to tell a straightforward story about your ESG journey to net zero and make sure it is visible on all your communications channels.
Buzzy and fluffy
Language is one of the top reasons marketing and ESG teams should work together. Your marketing team knows your brand and keywords that drive traffic, but they may not know the ESG terms they should use or avoid. They will see marketing data telling them to use buzzy words that are trending hashtags on Twitter or fuzzy words that sound nice and are key searches on Google. ‘Net zero,’ ‘climate change’ and ‘carbon neutral’ can be considered buzz or fluff words that should be avoided by some ESG teams because, if used incorrectly, they can set off alarm bells about potential greenwashing. Marketing and ESG must work together to decide what language is best for their company and use terms that have clear meanings and credible data can explain. Make sure what is communicated is clear and easy to understand. Keep it simple, specific and verifiable. Use consistent units of measure, list certifications, and acknowledge third-party verification when applicable. What language or terms you decided on also need to be used consistently in internal and external communication materials and regularly used to educate your company’s employees.
After your combined teams have decided on the best language to use, the next step is to work towards building trust. Not only do your customers need to trust your brand; the same goes for your employees, future investors, community members and potential recruits. Be honest and humble about your ESG journey as a company, both externally and internally. Explain your aspirations, plans and goals to everyone and what your targets and timelines are. Communicate your achievements and milestones. Be specific and share the data. Rely on your marketing team to help translate the technical information and put it in terms that are easy to understand.
Going forward together
If you remember the days when departments in a company all worked in their own silo, then you know that today, that just won’t work. Pulling your entire organization into this journey is vital to building a culture that generates sustainable ideas, inspires DEI activities, and builds governance change. Breaking down the walls of those silos and pulling your teams together will build a company culture focused on educating and being transparent and telling honest and authentic stories is pivotal in building a strong, trusted and supported brand the future.