4 tips for communicating sustainability initiatives to a global audience

Consumers care more than ever about the impact of their choices on the environment, but signal noise means it's hard for corporate ESG comms to get heard. Sarah Hindley of Nucco recommends four ways to reach your audience.

In a world of globalization and corporate investing, companies with sustainability-focused initiatives are more attractive than those without, especially in banking and finance.

And the pandemic has only accelerated investor interest. $54bn was invested in bond funds specializing in ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) issues from January to May 2021 alone, and that number continues to rise. But are businesses communicating their corporate sustainability and ESG initiatives effectively to their global audiences? And how could they do it better?

What is ESG?

While the term ‘ESG’ first appeared in the mid-noughties, many people still don’t understand what it is or what it means for their organization. According to Gartner, ESG “refers to a collection of corporate performance evaluation criteria that assess the robustness of a company’s governance mechanisms and its ability to effectively manage its environmental and social impacts.”

However, ESG can mean different things to different individuals and organizations. As The Wall Street Journal points out, “contradictory claims about ESG abound, partly because there is no agreed definition of what counts as sustainable.” There are no defined standards around what can and can’t be classed as ESG, or on how ESG metrics should be reported, with several differing frameworks. All this leads to a lot of confusion – confusion your communications have to cut through to deliver their messages effectively.

Define ESG internally

While ESG can mean many different things to other people, you need to be clear on what it means for your organization. Take the time to define ESG within the context of your business, and ensure all employees understand the term and how to use it. This is where great internal comms come in.

Engaging employees in your brand’s story is a great way to do this. Giving a human touch to internal ESG comms by positioning employees as brand storytellers and ambassadors can have a major impact on how your business is perceived, internally and externally.

Improve authenticity

Show that you’re taking ESG seriously – bring in subject matter experts to work on your programs and to help you understand the messages you’re communicating. Don’t hesitate to showcase these experts in communications. Why not include quotes from them on the importance of ESG and your organization’s work in this area? These may seem like small things, but they can make your messages come across as much more authentic to your audience.

Our clients UBS are doing interesting work here in the B2B space, promoting ESG initiatives through various assets and media, from virtual events and microsites to interactive quizzes and speaker series. This showcases that they understand their audience’s needs for different types of content, helping to convey a more authentic story.

Bringing in influencers with content such as podcasts can also be a very powerful tool to improve authenticity. Starting a discourse about global topics, showing that you’re not afraid to have difficult conversations, is a great way to have an impact on your audience. Nike has done this recently with a series called Talking Trash, which features conversations between some of the world’s prominent climate experts and young leaders.

Make data digestible

Endless streams of unintelligible figures will put off even the most committed sustainable stakeholder. Data visualization is a powerful tool for communication and emotional impact. Oatly did this well in their 2021 Sustainability Report, visualizing their key statistics through infographics. Whether static or animated, infographics can make internal ESG metrics and KPIs much clearer and easier to understand.

Simplify complex topics

When dealing with the complexities and lack of clarity around ESG, your communication must simplify the topic rather than add to the confusion. Popular in B2C, like the campaign from Inches Cider about their green creds and sustainability, video content is an excellent way of communicating complex topics, drawing information into a straightforward, engaging narrative your audience can follow.

As shown by De Beers Group’s blueprint for creating a positive and sustainable impact, video content perfectly complements written words, allowing for greater storytelling and emotion.

Communicating your ESG stories shouldn’t have to be a challenge. By ensuring all of your stakeholders understand what ESG means to your business, creating authentic, simple communication and breaking down your data into digestible pieces of content, you are one step closer to having a solid ESG communication strategy.

Sarah Hindley is marketing manager at Nucco