Be authentic and don’t greenwash: how to communicate your company’s sustainability strategy
6 min read | Paul Gosling | Article | Workplace Sustainability
You’ve probably heard of companies being accused of ‘greenwashing’ – making false statements about their environmental credentials – or even ‘green hushing’ – keeping quiet about their sustainability goals for fear of backlash or greenwashing allegations. But it’s essential for organisations to communicate their sustainability strategies authentically to customers, employees, business stakeholders, investors and the local community.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies are now a key part of most business strategies and the reporting and auditing requirements for them are becoming more rigorous. Gihan Hyde from the ESG advisory firm Communique speaks in our Sustainable Futures: Career Conversations series about the importance of making authentic commitments to sustainability and suggests how organisations can communicate them effectively to both internal and external audiences.
Why should organisations commit to sustainability?
It’s part of an organisation’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) to respond to sustainability issues, including climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental pollution and resource scarcity. Not only is this the right thing to do, but having a long-term sustainability vision can also improve business performance and efficiency. Communique is a certified B Corp company, meaning it’s met the high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability, as set by the B Lab network.
How to create an authentic and robust sustainability strategy
Many organisations want to know how to begin their sustainability journey and how they can get their employees on board, explains Hyde. Creating a robust sustainability strategy is a whole team effort, with the operational team providing the business context, sustainability specialists navigating the technical complexities of ESG policies and regulations, and communications professionals focusing on how to share this information with internal and external audiences.
One way to manage sustainability in a way that’s authentic to your brand is to make commitments that fulfil your organisational purpose, as well as focus on protecting people and the planet. Some companies have achieved this balance by putting the planet “in the room” and amplifying its voice at the decision-making table, as a way of integrating sustainability into their business model and culture. Munish Datta, Director of Sustainability at Specsavers, speaks about treating nature as a business stakeholder in his episode of the Sustainable Futures: Career Conversations series.
Keep your sustainability communication clear and concise
Once you’ve created an authentic sustainability strategy, it’s time to share it with your customers. Being clear when communicating your policies is essential to avoid confusion or accusations of greenwashing, and it’s one of the requirements listed in the Green Claims Code.
Customers want to see evidence of how your business has helped the environment and the sustainability milestones you’re on course to reach. The best way to communicate this, according to Hyde, is to avoid jargon and focus on the results of your initiatives and how they’ve impacted the environment and the lives of the people involved. This information should be easily accessible on your website and social media pages, rather than hidden within reports or other resources. The European Proposal for a Directive on Green Claims requires companies to substantiate green claims using robust, science-based and verifiable methods and it demonstrates the direction of travel for sustainability communications.
Clear and concise sustainability policies can also be repurposed for different groups and translated into multiple languages – expanding the reach of your sustainability communications to more diverse audiences. 60% of Communique’s employees are from developing countries and underrepresented communities: “with everyone in my team being from different countries, we have to make sure we’re communicating in a simple fashion”, says Hyde.
Bring your employees along with you on your sustainability journey
Your employees can be your biggest sustainability champions if you let them. It’s important to share your sustainability plans internally as well as externally, so your employees can understand what goals you’re trying to achieve and what role they can play in helping you get there.
If your employees, especially those working in marketing and sales roles, have a clear understanding of your sustainability commitments they can channel this messaging into their customer-facing communications. Your employees may have their own ideas on how to foster sustainable practices within your organisation, so establishing two-way communication can help give them a voice on the topic.
It's the duty of all of us to protect the planet for future generations, which is why it’s essential for organisations to make commitments to sustainability and deliver on these promises. Creating and communicating an authentic and robust sustainability strategy requires the collaboration of technical specialists and marketing experts within an organisation. If you’re looking for talented professionals to be part of your company’s sustainability journey, register a job with us today.
About this author
Paul Gosling, National Director for Sustainability Recruitment, Hays
Paul is the National Director for Sustainability Recruitment at Hays and he has been a specialist recruiter in the environment and sustainability sector for over 25 years. He started recruiting into the sector in 1995 after finishing his BSc in Environmental Science and he has worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of companies over the past 20 years to support their growth and development in this dynamic and critically important sector. During this time, Paul has also built a wealth of knowledge and he is recognised as a leading expert on overcoming the unique recruitment challenges facing the environment and sustainability sector.