Transparency to drive eco-policies

The media's recent attention to environmental topics provides evidence that eco-sustainability has evolved into a significant business driver.

The media's recent attention to environmental topics provides evidence that eco-sustainability has evolved into a significant business driver.

Companies are redirecting marketing messages to include environmental topics at an accelerated pace.

Eco-sustainability needs a more central role in a company's business and communications efforts. A corporation's ability to meet the requirements of eco-sustainability will increasingly play a fundamental role in market valuation, the constitution and continuity of its work force, operational processes, brand essence, and, ultimately, its overall public perception.

Cynical journalists and social media. The corporate scandals of the dot-com bust and the Enron meltdown have altered the media's approach to corporate accountability and CSR. Too many journalists were burnt by flamboyant entrepreneurs pitching seemingly revolutionary business models that never materialized. These same journalists now are skeptical of any corporate promises.

Also, out of the ashes of the dot-com bust, there emerged a new genre: social media. Countless individuals now practice grassroots journalism, "by the people, for the people," on blogs, social communities, and on YouTube. Suddenly, everyone has the opportunity to be heard, and those who are relevant and who understand the power of linking and engaging on the Internet will be heard.

Corporations will need to rise to the scrutiny of these watchdogs, who will be everywhere, as the ever-growing number of eco-blogs indicates.

Transparency breeds authenticity. Feasible communications strategy is now based on complete transparency. Positive impact is contingent upon the stringency with which operational actions and promises are met.

But there are new methodologies to guide corporations in meeting the requirements of this new business imperative. Based on operational rigor and organizational change, they give communications a central role.

Aligning operations with communications. To create this transparency in companies marketing eco-sustainable products and services, corporate communications and operations need to be linked. There has been, at best, limited connection between the two disciplines. In a world where eco-sustainability takes focus as a business strategy, this is no longer viable.

If operations and communications are unsynchronized, companies face the risk of making promises they can't keep. Failed promises will be exposed, leading to a vicious cycle that communications in isolation will be unable to break out of.

More change for business communications. This new synergetic relationship between operations and communications has a fundamental impact on the role of corporate communications. In-house communications management will need to build a close working relationship with the operational function, so both stay informed of relevant eco-sustainability issues.

For the communications consultancy, the change is perhaps even more profound. They are strongly advised to acquire operational consulting skills in the area of eco-sustainability.

George Basile, Ph.D., is a senior sustainability consultant at Bite Communications' sustainability practice. Burghardt Tenderich is Bite Communications' GM for North America.

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