Communicating your sustainability strategy: A guide to transparency and responsibility

Communicating your sustainability strategy: A guide to transparency and responsibility

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How to communicate your sustainability strategy?

In today's age, sustainability has transcended from a desirable attribute to a business imperative. Stakeholders, including investors, employees, and consumers, are becoming increasingly discerning in their expectations regarding corporate environmental responsibility. Therefore, formulating a comprehensive sustainability strategy is crucial. But equally significant is the ability to communicate that strategy effectively.

The major challenge, however, lies in identifying when and how to broadcast progress on sustainability endeavours. While some companies prefer to remain silent until substantial results are achieved, others involve their community, clients, and employees in every step of their journey, acknowledging that perfection is a constant pursuit. Nevertheless, the trend leans towards transparency and openness, encouraged by either legislation or competitive differentiation.

This article aims to guide you on effectively communicating your sustainability strategy by using responsible communication, fostering transparency, and engaging all stakeholders.

Understanding the basics: Responsible communication

How to promote sustainability? An illustration by Laura Dunkley
How to promote sustainability? An illustration by Laura Dunkley

Responsible communication forms the bedrock of an effective sustainability strategy. Responsible communication is more than just sharing updates; it's about fostering transparency and authenticity in your interactions. It implies delivering clear, accurate, and consistent information, demonstrating your commitment to environmental stewardship. 

1. Transparency: According to ADEME's guidelines for responsible communication, transparency lies at the heart of responsible communication. Transparency extends beyond the sharing of success stories. It means being open about the challenges faced, areas needing improvement, and even failures. The more open a business is about its sustainability journey - the good and the bad - the more credibility it gains in the eyes of stakeholders.

A great example of this is the Swedish fashion brand Filippa K. In its sustainability reports, the company openly acknowledges the complexities and challenges of transforming into a fully circular business, while also highlighting its progress and future goals. This transparency fosters trust, a crucial element in building strong stakeholder relationships.

2. Accuracy: Responsible communication also requires accuracy. It's crucial to ensure the information shared about sustainability initiatives is factually correct, comprehensible, and avoids greenwashing. The credibility of a company's sustainability strategy is fundamentally grounded in the accuracy of its communication.

3. Consistency: Lastly, consistency in communication is vital. Regular updates on sustainability efforts ensure stakeholders remain informed and engaged. Consistency also means maintaining alignment between words and actions, reinforcing the authenticity of a company's commitment to sustainability. Bringing these principles to life within an organisation requires a culture that values openness, embraces feedback, and commits to ongoing learning and improvement. 

By doing so, businesses can not only drive their sustainability agenda forward but also build a reputation as a responsible and trustworthy entity in the eyes of their stakeholders. In conclusion, responsible communication forms an integral part of communicating a sustainability strategy effectively.

Developing and communicating your sustainability strategy

Here is a step-by-step guide on formulating and communicating your sustainability strategy:

1. Set clear and quantifiable goals

Your sustainability strategy must have clear, quantifiable, and time-bound goals. This structure not only aids in internal execution but also offers a measurable framework to share with external stakeholders. In accordance with the United Nations directive to ‘lead with science,’ these goals should be grounded in scientific rigour, with a dedication to evidence, transparency, and accessibility. This is not just about being data-led but providing a new vision for consumers to embrace.

To illustrate the importance of clear goal-setting, consider the case of Unilever. Their ‘Sustainable Living Plan’ published in 2010 had clear targets: by 2020, they aimed to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of their products. By 2023, they were able to report a 47% reduction in CO2 emissions from energy per tonne of production, nearing their set target.

2. Identify your key stakeholders

Understanding who your key stakeholders are and what their sustainability expectations might be is paramount. They can be your customers, employees, investors, or even the wider community. It is also important to understand the value of the actions of these stakeholders towards sustainable lifestyles.

A study by the MIT Sloan Management Review found that 88% of executives agreed that stakeholder engagement was important to their sustainability strategy. Meanwhile, according to a survey by PwC, 45% of investors want companies to identify the societal stakeholders they view as most important.

3. Customise communication for each stakeholder group

Each stakeholder group will have unique interests and expectations regarding your sustainability efforts. Therefore, your communication strategy should be tailored to resonate with each of them. For example, the United Nations encourages companies to 'change behaviours and practices,' which means providing a new vision for stakeholders that allows them to understand their role in promoting sustainable practices.

For instance, a 2023 Nielsen study showed that 74% of Millennials and Gen Z are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, demonstrating that emphasising sustainability in consumer communication can positively impact sales among these demographics.

4. Update stakeholders

Periodically inform your stakeholders about your progress. Be open about your challenges and successes. For instance, Ganni, a Danish clothing brand, publishes annual sustainability reports, giving its stakeholders an authentic view of their journey.

5. Seek feedback

Actively engage with your stakeholders and seek their feedback on your sustainability strategy and communication. This interactive approach will not only keep them involved but can also provide valuable insights and support broader sustainable change.

A survey revealed that businesses that incorporate stakeholder perspectives into their strategies are 26% more likely to outperform their industry peers on profitability. This underlines the potential value of stakeholder feedback. In conclusion, effective communication of your sustainability strategy requires clear goal-setting, understanding and engaging with stakeholders and maintaining open, transparent dialogue. With these practices, businesses can achieve both their sustainability goals and enhance their reputation in the marketplace.

Guidelines on sustainable communication for fashion companies. These can be applied beyond the scope of the fashion industry.
Guidelines on sustainable communication for fashion companies. These can be applied beyond the scope of the fashion industry.
Credit: United Nations

Implementing best practices: Chloé's case study

One company that stands out in responsible communication of their sustainability strategy is the luxury fashion house, Chloé. Their approach has been characterised by bold transparency. They have openly communicated their strategic shift towards more responsible materials and their ambition to reach a 30% reduction per product by 2025, according to their targets. The brand also holds open forums, inviting clients, employees, and experts to discuss their sustainability progress and plans. 

Chloé is the first luxury company to obtain a Bcorp certification.
Chloé is the first luxury fashion company to obtain a B Corp certification.
Credit: Chloé

In 2022, Chloé launched a series of initiatives, including a biodiversity footprint assessment using the Global Biodiversity Score tool and following the framework set by Sciences Based Targets for Nature. This tool enables them to quantify and analyse the impact of their activity (scope 1, 2 and 3) on biodiversity, according to the main pressures on ecosystems. These moves, backed by transparent and frequent communication, have significantly boosted Chloé's reputation among its stakeholders.

Leveraging digital platforms for communication

In this digital age, myriad platforms are available to disseminate your sustainability strategy. Corporate websites, newsletters, social media channels, webinars, and podcasts can effectively reach out to diverse stakeholder groups. Each platform presents unique opportunities for interactive and dynamic content, fostering deeper engagement.

A leading resource in this regard is Plan A's Sustainability Platform. Plan A has established itself as a powerful tool in aiding businesses to communicate their sustainability strategies. The platform is filled with resources and guides that businesses can use to communicate their sustainability strategy responsibly. It also provides carbon accounting and decarbonisation tools, including corporate carbon footprint (CCF) calculators, decarbonisation target setting and reduction strategies. One of Plan A's standout features is its in-depth guides on responsible communication. These guides shed light on new initiatives and address challenges in the sustainability journey, thereby fostering a sense of community among users. The platform also provides relevant data and insights, which can significantly enhance the effectiveness of communication strategies.

The key to utilising these platforms effectively lies in tailoring your message to suit each platform's unique characteristics and the audience they reach. For instance, social media channels are excellent for visual storytelling or sharing milestone updates, while platforms like Plan A, with its innovative technology, experts articles and comprehensive guides, can delve into more nuanced aspects of your sustainability strategy.

Building a sustainable corporate culture 

Communicating your sustainability strategy isn't just about external stakeholders; it's equally crucial to engage your employees in this journey. A sustainable corporate culture can be a powerful driver for achieving your sustainability goals.

Involve your employees in sustainability initiatives, provide them with regular updates, and encourage their input. Remember, your employees are not just part of your organisation, but they are also customers, community members, and influencers in their networks. A great example of this is Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company that is renowned for its commitment to sustainability. Patagonia not only communicates its sustainability strategy to its customers but also involves its employees deeply in its sustainability initiatives.

Overcoming challenges in communication

Communicating your sustainability strategy is not without its challenges. For instance, 'greenwashing', or the act of conveying misleading information about a company's environmental practices, is a significant concern. All claims must be backed by solid evidence to maintain credibility and avoid scepticism.

Another challenge is the complexity of sustainability issues. It can be challenging to communicate these complex issues in a way that is easily understood by all stakeholders. To overcome this, it's important to use clear, straightforward language and provide context to help your audience understand the relevance of the issue. Furthermore, communication must be consistent. Inconsistent messages can create confusion and damage credibility. This necessitates a well-coordinated approach to ensure that all communication channels and departments are delivering a unified message.

The power of partnerships

Sustainability is not a journey that businesses need to undertake alone. Partnerships with NGOs, industry bodies, or even other businesses can provide valuable support and add credibility to your sustainability strategy. Such collaborations can also present opportunities for joint communication initiatives, providing a larger platform to share your sustainability strategy. 

Take IKEA, for example. The retail giant partners with various organisations, including the WWF and the United Nations, to drive its sustainability initiatives. These partnerships have not only helped IKEA achieve significant milestones but also boosted the credibility of its communication.

List of actions to communicate on your sustainability strategy
List of actions to communicate on your sustainability strategy.
Credit: Plan A

As the world shifts towards a more sustainable future, the way businesses communicate their sustainability strategies will play a pivotal role in their success. Responsible communication, stakeholder engagement, and transparency are the cornerstones of an effective communication strategy.

By setting clear goals, regularly updating stakeholders, seeking feedback, and fostering a sustainable corporate culture, businesses can navigate the journey towards sustainability with their stakeholders by their side.

Remember, in sustainability, it's not just about doing the right thing. It's also about communicating it right. Book a demo with Plan A today.

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