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Having sustainability policies and not communicating them is fighting only half the battle

Delivering a coherent message, using the most appropriate communication channels for your audience, and encouraging participation are three key factors.

What do Starbucks, Patagonia and Tom’s stand for? What vision do they hold for doing business? Has sustainability become part of their business model or culture, their storytelling and marketing strategy?

Companies have found that their brands and initiatives are increasingly under more scrutiny and that their commitment to employees and communities they impact is key for their success. Social responsibility is becoming part of businesses’ DNA, and it responds to a more active and vocal consumer with high social standards. Today’s more conscious and more educated consumers are also taking note of companies’ efforts towards environmental sustainability.  In the past, consumers focused on price and convenience as the key factors in decision-making. Now, they are assessing the corporate values behind the products they purchase. Rapid changes in technology and communications are creating an increasingly transparent world, and within this world, customers choose brands that demonstrate a positive social purpose. Being sustainable is not an option; it is an imperative.

Recent surveys show that consumers care about the social, economic and environmental impact of the brands they support. They want to feel good about what they buy. According to a Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, two out of three consumers are influenced by sustainability factors at the time of purchase. Furthermore, 66% of global respondents say they are willing to pay more for sustainable goods.

This article assumes that companies are aware of the importance of having sustainable policies with concrete goals and indicators, as well as a system to measure performance; however, are companies communicating those results?
Sustainability can be a complex topic, and it can be challenging to communicate companies’ policies, initiatives and goals. It is critical for any brand that maintains a sustainable marketing strategy to consistently provide reliable data and information that demonstrates its commitment to sustainability.

How should brands develop their story telling, and how should they reach consumers?
  • Walk the Talk: The fact that sustainability is a trending topic should not encourage companies to invent stories about what they do. Consumers expect companies to communicate the truth.  Authenticity and transparency are key. Social purpose claims must be supported by actions and results. To reduce reputational risks and meet customer expectations, brands should ensure greater accountability and transparency in their sustainability reports, while at the same time acknowledging their own sustainability challenges. Building brand trust with consumers is crucial, and brands should inform and educate their audiences on the importance and impact of sustainability.
  • Use the right channels: Increasingly, consumers, especially millennials, are receiving their information online. Digital marketing works better with this generational group. Using a variety of platforms and creative materials such as infographics, short videos or virtual reality can be effective for reaching millennials to communicate sustainability milestones and the impact of their initiatives.  Another key is message segmentation, targeting the right audiences; plus digital strategies including using the right hashtags to foster interactive conversations.
  • Engage stakeholders: Sustainability is a permanent goal.  Effective stakeholder engagement is essential for accomplishing long-term objectives within the public, corporate or non-profit sectors. Working in partnership with other actors that share common values enhances the chances of success in achieving sustainable development. A collective action approach can help face certain challenges inherent in different industries. Partnerships and collaboration bring shared value to companies and communities. Employees play a fundamental role in modeling and communicating a brand’s sustainability values. They are the first stakeholders who must be engaged and who must become active in sustainable practices.
Implementing sound sustainability initiatives and effectively communicating them is now vital for the success of any company. It is critical for the organization’s bottom line, for maintaining the social license to operate and for generating higher levels of trust with consumers, driving profits and improving the world in which we live.

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