Billed as a 'must read' for businesses trying to tackle communications on sustainability issues when it was originally published almost four years ago, it's amazing how much of my original blog (reposted here) stands up today.
So, here you go: My top 4 tips for getting it right....
Be realistic. For every Marks & Spencer and Unilever (e.g. those that have fundamentally shifted their business model thinking and placed sustainability at the heart of what they're doing), there are hundreds of thousands of companies that are merely performing well (e.g. meeting their waste targets), and hundreds of thousands that are merely performing good housekeeping (e.g. keeping their energy as low as possible). The three groups of companies should not be confused with one another.
Be transparent. More and more companies are reluctant to communicate what they are doing for fear of being tripped up for failing to meet targets or not quite achieving what they set out to do. But there's no need to be cautious. Communicating sustainability and ethical and green issues is all about being open and honest. If companies are upfront about their failings, people are more willing to look past that in search of more positive stuff.
Be positive. Five or six years ago, communications around environmental issues was dominated by images of polar bears floating on sheets of melting ice. But fatigue has set in and people can't relate. It's time to be positive. The education piece is over, so it's time to concentrate on the positives – the solutions, the technologies, the standards, the products that are going to get us out of trouble. Leave the education and campaigning and doom and gloom to the activists and get on with promoting yourself as one of those that is going to lead us to a better planet.
Know your audience. There's really no point in promoting your sustainability credentials if the stakeholders you're talking to don't get it, or don't care. It's about what is important to them, making what you have achieved real and bringing it to life.
Don't over-egg it. Companies know that there is money to be made from green PR and more and more put pressure on their marketers and PRs to take advantage of it without really knowing whether their story stacks up. It's easy to fall into the trap of greenwashing for communications sake. Don't fall into it. Consumers are getting more savvy and they won't be taken for fools.
Get your story straight across the company. It's easy to see straight through a PR campaign that is a side, vanity project – as opposed to one that is core to what the business is trying to achieve. Promote what you are doing internally first, before attempting any form of external communication.
None of this is new. Communicating green messages isn't new, so let's not pretend it is. You need to keep things fresh, be creative, innovative and interesting – all the stuff you'd expect from good communications best practice. Because sustainability communications is no different from any form of communications – it's about being creative, honest and appealing. The difference is, if you get it right in this space, there is the added incentive that an emerging market will be hungry for your products.
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