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February 27, 2019

Why businesses need an ongoing dialogue about sustainability

Written by Ian Koenig
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In January, I blogged about how corporations can become more relevant to consumers by embracing sustainability/environmental & social governance (ESG). The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) reports that 68 million adult Americans base purchasing decisions on their values (personal, social, and environmental) and will spend up to 20 percent more on environmentally sound products. A recently published perspective from Nielsen, “Modern Sustainability Is Much More than Paper versus Plastic,” underscores how important it is for businesses to explain clearly what exactly they mean by being sustainable.

A Complex Issue 

Nielsen points out that 81 percent of people surveyed around the world feel strongly that  companies should help improve the environment. At the same time, it can be difficult for consumers to understand how the efforts of businesses and consumers themselves have an impact. For example, in the United States, recycling laws and practices are so complicated that it’s not always easy to know how to be a good citizen at the personal and corporate level.

“Despite our best intentions as consumers, the complexities of the current system can be overwhelming when we don’t know where to start,” the authors write. The authors go on to challenge businesses to embrace sustainability in a holistic fashion and work harder to explain how that commitment translates to actions. They write, “ . . . the key is to start taking steps in a sustainable direction and make consumers aware of the steps your company is taking.”

The Starbucks Example

I couldn’t agree more, and at Investis Digital, we work with companies all the time to help them articulate their commitment to sustainability. Based on our experiences, making sustainability easier to understand requires an ongoing effort, not a one-time press release or video about your latest sustainability efforts. Those tactics are important, but they need to support a narrative that you share across all digital channels and a dialogue with all your audiences plus influencers who have a say in the conversation.

For example, when Starbucks began using an eco-friendly Frugalpac cup in the United Kingdom, Starbucks relied on PR to tell the company’s story. Publications such as The Guardian and Newsweek explained how the Frugalpac is designed to be the world’s first fully recyclable cup. But Starbucks still had a lot of work to do. After accused Starbucks of failing to truly live up to its commitment to be sustainable, Starbucks fired back through a blog post that cited third-party information to explain the company’s commitment to creating a recyclable cup. To this day, Starbucks relies on its website to educate its audiences on sustainability, including the roles and responsibilities of consumers. For example, on America Recycles Day, the Starbucks Stories blog outlined five steps consumers can take to make the world a greener place

It’s important that businesses not only talk about their own efforts to make the world more sustainable but also comment on some of the complex issues related to sustainability. Starbucks has done so on its own blog by discussing the local environmental laws that can complicate the recycling efforts of corporations. A business cannot wave a magic wand and make the world greener. Companies need to navigate a complex web of laws and parties. Informing audiences with clear, understandable language is essential.

What Businesses Should Do

At Investis Digital, we regularly analyze and score corporate brands on how well they’re leveraging their ESG/CSR story digitally. We combine strategic insight with original ideas to create a sustainability narrative that’s relevant and compelling for each of the audiences your work affects -- a story that goes beyond policies and performance, unlocking awareness, affinity, and action across every stakeholder group. As a next step, we suggest assessing your corporate brand to better understand gaps and opportunities around leveraging your story to drive business impact. Contact us to learn more.

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