It has taken many decades for businesses to redefine their desired perception. We know why brands today want to be seen as caring towards the environment, stakeholders and transparent about how they conduct business. Given this transformation, sustainability has evolved as a key business anchor and growth driver. Several shifts in different parts of the business ecosystem contributed to this change. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals inculcated increased awareness of the role of corporations and the expectations from them to impact sustainable growth positively. Growingly, consumers or the public at large, too, are moving towards adopting conscious ways of living and are clear towards aligning with brands or corporates who share the same value system. This shifting meaning towards lasting change has now shaped boardroom discussions that bring together people, planet and profit as the foundation of every business decision, thereby making sound and measurable ESG framework “a must-have”. Add a communications framework that will bring together the shared purpose of all stakeholders and further enable the company to demonstrate its efforts.
Today, an organisation’s ESG roadmap is as essential as its capability deck because it is the newest addition to the stakeholders’ lenses. This is probably the reason why the space is gradually becoming cluttered with pragmatic elements such as ESG score metrics, parameters, alignment with UN Sustainable Development Goals SDGs, and active reporting around trends, “flavour of the month”, and citizen issues. In its purest form, ESG aspires to create a world that is balanced and centered on self-sufficiency. It’s vital to remember that a company’s mission can only lead to practical results if it can be disseminated widely and rings trust in its audience. Thus, there needs to be a system in place to ensure a unified, coherent and comprehensive communication strategy for the ESG framework.
Developing an ESG communication strategy
Developing a plan of action for the ESG framework should begin with knowing the target audience. Focus areas and issues alter over time with changing demographics and social constructs. Thus, understanding the value systems of the target audience for the company becomes an essential component in developing an ESG framework. Teams must effectively communicate the company’s ESG goals and their actions to achieve them. When set publicly and transparently, these targets allow businesses to provide a measure for accountability to their goals, garnering more trust in the process. This should be further followed by communicating the goals cohesively to all the relevant stakeholders. When ESG/sustainability is genuinely integrated with the business story and broader strategic objectives, it is the most effective way to communicate honestly. A perfect example is Starbucks’s sustainability initiative, Shared Planet, which they describe as a “commitment to do business in ways that are good for people and the planet.” This vision of Starbucks does not just rest with the brand but is shared by its employees and consumers who strive for fair pricing and environmental conscience.
Additionally, brands should also ensure that the ESG engagement plans are proactive rather than reactive. Even more important is that they are easy to understand. Helping your audiences with clarity on how they are a part of the impact and the effort at the back of communicating timely updates, simplifying data through infographics, taking community stories to the fore, and inviting solutions keeps the dialogue between a brand and its audience more trusted. Empowering employees with the right means and medium to help them naturally extend the same to customers, investors, and other interested parties is another aspect that goes a long way.
Need for an integrated approach
There is no doubt that the communications ecosystem must act immediately to keep up with the fast-evolving narratives in ESG, helping take corporations and brands to the centre of this change. Therefore, it’s necessary to integrate traditional communication channels with newer channels that allow space for more interaction.
It’s also amazing how the virtual world has connected people with their favourite brands even more because of the powerful storytelling and ESG messaging during the tough times. It shows that stakeholders would invest in a firm that not only supports but also participates in the betterment of the community. By combining the strengths of purpose-driven messaging and impactful storytelling, a brand can efficiently connect with its audience.
While board members strategies and aim at aligning the firm’s ESG policy with the company’s vision, it is necessary that communication leaders take forward the organisation’s ESG goals and messaging to distinct stakeholders in the best manner possible. Moving ahead, the reputation of businesses will be directly linked to the conscious efforts put by leaders towards ensuring ESG goals move beyond storytelling to storydoing.
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