Navigating the Bermuda Triangle of sustainability communications


    Reprinted from GreenBuzz, a free weekly e-newsletter. Subscribe right here.

    How ought to firms speak, credibly and successfully, about their sustainability and ESG initiatives to the exterior world?

    It’s a giant, advanced query with many dimensions. And, like most broad sustainability questions, the reply begins, “It relies upon” — on the corporate, who it’s speaking to, what it’s speaking about and the way its messaging suits with the corporate’s general “voice.”

    That’s only for starters. It additionally is dependent upon the aim of the communications: Is it to promote stuff, appeal to expertise, placate activists, sustain with rivals, delight the C-suite or any of a number of different motivations for sending out a press launch, refreshing an internet web page or sending the boss out on the talking circuit? Normally, it’s a number of of those motives, if not “all the above.”

    However largely it is dependent upon three key enterprise features aligning: sustainability, communications and authorized.

    Or, what I’ve dubbed the Bermuda Triangle of sustainability messaging. That’s, a spot the place so many well-intentioned messages lose their manner, generally by no means to be seen once more.

    The state of company sustainability communications is dismal. It’s not simply the comms people’ fault.


    We’ve simply introduced our first-ever GreenBiz Comms Summit, a part of subsequent February’s GreenBiz 23 convention, the place we’ll discover the challenges firms face in looking for to navigate and survive this all-too-common vacation spot, and interact in some hands-on workout routines.

    Extra on that in a second.

    As a lifelong communications skilled devoted to sustainability, I’ve been fascinated with — and generally appalled by — firms’ makes an attempt to convey messages round sustainability matters. So lots of their efforts appear amateurish, as in the event that they’ve assigned this explicit process to a beginner who has little data or context concerning the matter or viewers. Or maybe it’s seen internally as a mere check-the-box train exterior the corporate’s “regular” communications, thus warranting minimal effort or scrutiny.

    In any case, I can’t inform you what number of press pitches we obtain which might be cringeworthy — that invoke the notion, for instance, that “It can save you the earth and earn a living, too!” Or some model of Kermit the Frog’s tune “It’s Not Simple Bein’ Inexperienced.” (These lyrics are actually 52 years outdated, presumably twice the age of the PR crew members who lazily shovel it right into a press launch or media pitch. Additionally, it was by no means meant to be about sustainability — it was about being a frog!) Or any of numerous different hackneyed expressions. Or pitches which might be filled with statistics however lack a story. Or that attempt to pitch too many advanced ideas without delay. Or that assume the journalist — and the meant viewers — has extra grounding in sustainability or ESG matters than they probably do.

    Most feared phrases

    It’s not simply the comms people’ fault. The aforementioned Bermuda Triangle comes into play when the sustainability and comms groups work out some verbiage — generally a difficult course of by itself, in line with my associates in each departments — then run it by company counsel, whose job it’s to maintain the corporate out of hassle. That’s typically the place the character and keenness of an organization’s sustainability communication will be stripped away.

    Certainly, the 2 most feared phrases in that three-way relationship could also be “authorized assessment.”

    The outcome: A meh-sounding communication that consists largely of 1) an announcement, generally of doubtful significance; 2) a recitation of the corporate’s general sustainability commitments and achievements; and three) a well-crafted, typically banal, assertion from an organization chief and/or exterior accomplice.

    Is it any surprise that the media not often covers this stuff?

    I’m not blaming any one among these three events — every is doing the job for which they have been employed. It’s the interplay amongst them that appears fraught:

    • The sustainability crew has a narrative to inform, although it’s typically shrouded in jargon and information factors that may obfuscate the message, no less than to a normal viewers.
    • The communications crew turns these messages into external-facing prose, although in doing so they might water down, if not lose, the important thing message and that means.
    • The authorized crew seeks to guard the corporate from blowback by activists, regulators and others, although they might overreach, excising something that would doubtlessly be problematic, from descriptive adjectives to complete advertising claims.

    In fact, many bigger firms outsource their sustainability communications, and generally their authorized assessment, to exterior companies. And there are a lot of terrific companies on the market, some with deep experience in sustainability and ESG matters. However these exterior companies can carry their very own challenges. Public relations, particularly, appears to be a career that pulls lots of younger folks, who use their job as a stepping stone to another place, that means they don’t stick round lengthy, even when they continue to be in PR. (Many go “inside,” becoming a member of a consumer’s comms crew.) As they transfer on, no matter insights, expertise and institutional data they’ve gained go away, too.

    What must occur? For starters, let’s carry sustainability, communications and authorized professionals collectively and have them share views and experiences. Have them craft messages collectively, then have these messages critiqued by a multidisciplinary panel: a reporter, an activist, an investor and their friends. Assist them perceive how their work meshes, or doesn’t, with the opposite legs of the triangle. Allow them to share what they’re studying, collectively, in actual time.

    That’s what we’ve deliberate for the invitation-only Comms Summit, which can happen over two half-days, from noon Feb. 13 to noon on Feb. 14, ending simply as GreenBiz 23 will get underway. We’ll carry collectively 200 professionals, a mixture of the three professions, to discover what’s working, what’s not and what can work higher.

    The summit represents the launch of our rising give attention to sustainability communications by massive firms.

    That is no small train. In a world of rising curiosity in — and pushback on — sustainability, internet zero, ESG, the round economic system, local weather tech, a simply transition, social justice and different matters, getting the messaging proper might be of more and more higher significance for firms, B-to-B in addition to B-to-C. In some circumstances, it may assist decide who’s seen as a frontrunner and who’s seen as greenwashing.

    If firms can’t get the messaging proper, they’ll be hampered as they advance their often-ambitious sustainability initiatives, commitments and objectives. But when they will, it may make a world of distinction.

    To be taught extra concerning the GreenBiz Comms Summit or to request an invite, go to right here.

    Thanks for studying. Yow will discover my previous articles right here. Additionally, I invite you to comply with me on Twitter and LinkedIn, subscribe to my Monday morning e-newsletter, GreenBuzz, from which this was reprinted, and take heed to GreenBiz 350, my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy.



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