Surely, the impetus needs to come from the execs who make the decisions on how organisations operate, their business models and supply chains? While this is true, communications also has a huge role to play.
Go big or go home
Leadership must be committed to designing and delivering an ambitious sustainability strategy and purpose programme, but unless this is communicated there is no line drawn in the sand, nothing with which they can be held to account.
Not just that – if businesses don’t communicate well, employees don’t see strong, motivating statements of intent out in the real world. And customers don’t understand the positive work being undertaken by the brands they buy into.
Alongside the imperatives for the PRO to embrace transparency, ensure their work has impact and is relevant to the right audiences, the additional challenge will be to ensure sustainability commitments are communicated in a bold way. There will be concerns within the exec about goals being too forthright in case these aren’t achieved in time. There may be worries about greenwashing or in-public failure, and this may encourage businesses to either not talk at all about their biggest ambitions, or to dial them down. Now is not the time to be prudish. Bold corporate communications have never been more important.
But an important proviso: however bold the approach, a business’ sustainability strategy is just that – a sustainability strategy. It is not always designed for communications, so foundational work must be done to make sure it is comms-ready.
Sustainability comms needs to focus on context
Unless we start to offer the full picture of our sustainability activities (the good and the bad), we will never create a burning platform for business change.
Too often context is conveniently removed from comms sustainability announcements. Transparency about what an organisation is doing well and what it is doing badly, in terms of its environmental credentials, is critical to avoid accusations of greenwashing. There needs to be bravery in communicating failings and an understanding that the scale and breadth of change that will be needed means mistakes will be made and problems will need to be overcome – these should be communicated.
It is also critical that brands don’t purely communicate their PR strategy and big ambitions, missing out the actual steps. Climate change should expand the PR team’s remit in the long term.
Radical change in the way businesses operate needs to be accompanied by radical transparency in communications. Businesses need to get used to the idea of taking a stand, presenting weakness as well as strength, and owning an issue that ultimately will affect their viability as well as the lives of their customers.
Brave communications won’t save the world, but it will certainly help.
Ben Hayman is chief client officer at Given