If the perception of your brand’s green efforts is falling short of reality, then it’s time to stop and re-examine all aspects of the social impact of your outreach. Gone are the days when consumers would buy “green” for green’s sake; they want to see for themselves how a brand is actually making a difference. And it’s in your best interest to inform and educate them.
According to a recent Cone Communications study, 88 percent of Americans want to see and hear about corporate social responsibility efforts, yet 60 percent are confused by corporate social responsibility messages. Simply participating in sustainability initiatives through donations or campaigns can easily be misinterpreted as self-serving and many companies have felt the backlash from consumers and constituents. What’s important now is to show “evidence of impact” — real and reliable proof of social responsibility accomplishments. The question is: How do you authentically and consistently communicate with communities of stakeholders around social and environmental issues?
Consider the following three key tenets:
- Turn communities of stakeholders into partners by inviting them to be active participants in the campaign and making it easy for them to learn about and connect with sustainability initiatives. Use social media extensively (making sure 24/7 monitoring is available), and aspire to keep the dialogue fluid by posting on various social platforms. Use offline and mobile to heighten the intensity of your messages. Stakeholders will feel a deeper sense of your commitment and authenticity when they’re kept in the loop and are involved. Last year, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company launched “Green Button,” a tool that gives consumers access to their personal energy-use data, transforms the data into actionable information and leads to greater energy conservation. To date, more than 2.3 million consumers registered (about half of PG&E’s customers) with more than 100,000 downloads. Most importantly, consumers have reported energy savings ranging from 10-70 percent!
- 2. Explore new communication avenues to encourage your employees, customers, top executives, advocates and influencers to help tell your sustainability story. For example, on a recent Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency solicited the opinions of its supporters and web visitors on the most effective ways to reduce global pollution. Supporters were also asked to engage in flash fiction by contributing six-word poems describing what the environment means to them. Many participants posted these on their own social platforms, literally spreading the word far and wide.
- 3. Provide ongoing and transparent proof of individual and collective impact. Employee engagement can be a vital tool for this. While looking to reach and surpass their goal of reducing waste sent to landfills, Lockheed Martin empowered their employees through their successful Go Green program. Groups of Green Team employees across the company embraced a variety of green initiatives, from reducing CO2 emissions to building LEED-certified green workplaces and gaining the support of supply chain partners to produce environmentally sound products. Green Teams even lead site-level initiatives ranging from purchasing bike racks made of recycled plastic to organizing stream cleanups and community volunteer efforts that are highlighted in a Go Green video showcasing their hands-on work.
Once this engagement has been established, maintain and build on it by sharing your success and expressing appreciation for participation and active involvement. It’s only through a true partnership with your community that you’ll achieve your goals while boosting your brand’s image and its bottom line.
This post first appeared on MediaPost on December 4, 2013.