6 ways to Communicate Sustainability Strategies effectively

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Let’s say, you have a great strategy in the area of desgin for environment for your new product –  your designers think it to be a clear winner in the sustainability embedded design category – and yet the product doesn’t take-off – worse, no one is even aware of the sustainability characteristics in it – Why?

The missing ingredient, most often is not the lack of good design, but lack of proper communications on part of the company to tell the world what they are up to and what can be expected of them.

So, it becomes critical to look at how you are communicating your sustainability strategies to various stakeholder groups.

There is one assumption though, based on which communications work – good old Free Market Capitalism – that consumer is logical in its choices when choosing products.

But the common consumer (referring to the Indian consumer) doesn’t know – especially in the green space – it doesn’t go to company websites and check the validity of their “green claims” – it simply takes the message at the face value.

If the communication or messaging is good, then it will have these 2 as part of the strategy:

  • Education to those various stakeholders about the positives and sometimes the negative issues, and
  • Credibility build-up of the product

But sometimes these can backfire or be abused. Owing to consumer behavior often encourages many companies to over message or make overly realistic or outright false claims to get their consumers buy-in. Which further leads us to walking the fine line of “Green washing” – act of mis-representing or making false claims about a product about its green characteristics. In fact, many companies do commit the sins of greenwashing.

So, what can you do to communicate your sustainability strategies effectively?

  • Environmental/Eco labeling programs are a mixed blessing. While some labels like the Eco-logo, Energy Star, FSC and others have established a reputable credibility, some of the labels claim attributes without any scientific research backing, either by the manufacturer or by a third party accreditation. In any case, they’re an effective communications strategy
  • Issuing GRI reports or an Environmental/CSR report is a way of communicating a message of care that fosters a green image. While some companies are bringing out GRI reports purely to create a green image, others genuinely form their own standards and do their own research in developing their reports (Ex: Seventh Generation, Patagonia)
  • Making your USP as your green message or turning your green characteristic into a USP: Car makers are communicating their new models as giving high mileage per gallon of gas – a green characteristic. In fact, car companies that are not putting hybrids in their marketing mix are missing a potential opportunity.
  • Turning obvious Green choice with a slight tilt in messaging: Indian rail metro services are being promoted as a green as it promotes using a public transport which is a green and safe way to travel.
  • Social media tools (Facebook, blogs, twitter etc.) are a great way to connect with people – the word is “Engagement”.
  • Certifications like ISO14000, OSHAS also act as form of messaging

Patagonia, Starbucks, Levis, Ford, Nissan, Sony and Indian companies like Maruti, ITC, TATA, Mahindra and variety of other companies from an array of industries are all participating in sustainable communications in one form or the other.

It is, but of course, the leaders that are setting examples and standards for other companies to follow.

Diana Verde in CSR wire reported some time back that sustainable communications is not about turning brands green overnight, or using natural or typically “green” iconography in your communications. It is about dematerialization; increasing the emotional value of brands while decreasing the physical resources that are used in creating their communications.

Can you think of other ways in which companies can communicate Green or sustainability strategies to the world?

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(Picture credit: Image by @Doug88888 via Flickr)

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