Let your CMO be your Chief Sustainability Officer, says Richard Benton, as he outlines the ways in which organizations must urgently improve their messaging around ESG.
Today’s businesses need to convince multiple audiences of the validity of their sustainability credentials, and yet many are failing to do so. However, there are some concrete steps that they can take to get their message across effectively and avoid “greenwashing” in their marketing and communications.
As countless surveys show, customers, employees and investors all want companies to play a leading role in societal change, sustainability and the transition to net zero.
The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, built on a general population survey of more than 36,000 people in 28 countries, found that 58% of consumers will buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values, 60% of employees will choose a place to work on the same basis and 64% of individual investors will invest in companies based on similar considerations. At the same time, 52% of respondents said they want businesses to do more to tackle climate change, while 68% expect CEOs to speak out and inform policy debates on the issue.
Meanwhile, Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer special report on institutional investors found that the overwhelming majority of such investors believe that companies that prioritize environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives offer opportunities for better long-term returns and merit a premium valuation.
Trust in organizations to ‘do the right thing’ varies widely. In Britain, for example, a YouGov survey of 3,000 energy customers for marketing agencies collective The Mission Group, providers scored particularly poorly, indicating that customers do not believe that they are tackling ESG issues effectively – and purpose-driven campaigns often do not work.
The UK Institute of Practitioners in Advertising last year compared 47 purpose-driven campaigns against 333 non-purpose campaigns and found that the standard campaigns generated 45% more ‘large business effects’ (sales, market share, customer acquisition/loyalty, pricing power and profit) than purpose-driven ones.
So, how can businesses do better in their communications and marketing on sustainability issues?
Above all, they need to follow a systematic process to ensure the authenticity of their sustainability messages. Here are seven steps that organizations can take to build a compelling sustainability message.