Welcome back to this four-part blog series where we’ve been discussing how you can build brand reputation in an era of greenwashing scrutiny and backlash. In this final post, we’ll be sharing how to authentically communicate your brand’s environmental sustainability goals and initiatives with the media and all stakeholders – the final, crucial piece of the puzzle.
The challenge for every comms professional is what to communicate and when. Reputable journalists will dig deep to ensure what they’re being ‘sold’ isn’t simply another example of corporate greenwashing. Vocal online audiences are ready and waiting to give their opinions and call out individual brands; a trend that’s likely to increase. However, there’s a growing need for environmental stories in the mainstream media and an audience desire to feel informed, which means there’s plenty of opportunity for your brands to shine a light on the work they’re doing. If you do it right.
How to communicate your brand’s environmental sustainability authentically
Let’s assume that you’ve mapped your stakeholder audiences, you understand what drives them, and perhaps you even have an ESG strategy in place or underway. Now you need to build trust and engagement. How do you achieve that?
Be ready to close the ‘say-do’ gap
More stringent ESG frameworks and vocal stakeholder groups are forcing companies to be transparent about their environmental sustainability goals and progress. Simply talking about your organization’s commitments will no longer suffice. You must share the journey and progress to secure positive media coverage. To avoid greenwashing accusations or public scrutiny for not ‘doing enough’, you must close the gap between what you say you want to achieve and what you’re actually doing to make it happen. Make it a priority to show how you’re closing the ‘say-do’ gap at every opportunity – make it a central part of your strategy.
Encourage your business leaders to create green initiatives that align with your business’ core values, stakeholder priorities, and the market’s legislative context. When you do this, your PR campaigns will feel relevant and purpose-driven, which will land well with your audiences. Where can you make the most impact? If you work for an automotive brand, focus your efforts on environmental initiatives that will contribute to decarbonization of the automotive industry, while encouraging your customers to take steps to lessen their impact too. This will feel far more authentic and purpose-driven than writing a cheque to plant trees to offset your carbon footprint.
Be honest and transparent
Be the first to announce when you’re falling behind schedule or need to do better when it comes to meeting your environmental goals. Don’t wait for a third party to do it. And, if greenwashing accusations do arise, ensure that you respond to them in a timely and respectful way. Publicize your plan of action to rectify the situation to show how important this is, and report back on it often. Although this admission could initially feel painful, it will go a long way in building trust and prevent stakeholder backlash further down the line.
Unsubstantiated storytelling leads to greenwashing accusations. The more detail you can share about the actions your company’s taking, the improvements you’re making, and the results so far – the better. Don’t feel tempted to just share top line information. Detail creates trust and a sense of earnestness about the impact you’re striving to make. Be wary of including overused, simplified phrases such as ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’ in your communications unless you have evidential data to back them up, because these buzzwords will raise skeptical eyebrows.
It can be tempting to jump on trends that have given other brands publicity or chase the news to boost your brand’s exposure. While this may have worked 5-10 years ago to achieve column inches, it doesn’t anymore. Journalists are looking for more substance nowadays and have inboxes full of press releases that lack it. You need to remain focused on what’s important to your business, the journey you’re on, and the impact you can prove.
Be an educator
To consumers: It’s one thing to share what your company is doing to meet its environmental commitments, but quite another if you want to be perceived as sincere about creating lasting change. Explain why what you’re doing is so important. Tell them what will happen in the short and long-term future if these issues aren’t addressed – what are the consequences? Explain how your customers can help in the overall mission and play their part. This will help to:
- Remove the ‘so what?’ factor from your communications,
- Show that you’re driven by genuine purpose,
- Appease skeptics who might assume that you’re just ticking a green box.
To employees: You should work with internal comms to align your environmental sustainability messaging. Whether internal or external, your messaging should clearly and transparently define your brand’s strategy, vision, and roadmap for success. Internal comms can use this to help employees understand the role they can play in achieving the brand’s vision.