Earth Month: Communicating on Your Brand’s Social and Environmental Positions

To mark the 53rd annual Earth Day, we are looking at and sharing trends and best practices in communications related to corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives or stances. As we all know, ESG has become a buzzword with investors, customers and employees all taking a new interest in the environmental and social impacts of the brands with which they invest, shop or work.

Although leadership may recognize the environmental, social and business value of such initiatives, they might not understand the value of sharing relevant and timely messaging related to their progress. However, how a company communicates or doesn’t share its ESG initiatives or strategies plays a key role in the success of those initiatives, as well as in enhancing or diminishing the reputation of the company.

Starting with the basics, ESG initiatives are those that address corporate responsibility goals including those that impact:

  • The Environment: Initiatives aim to improve climate, reduce waste and carbon footprint.
  • Social issues: Initiatives strive to secure or improve human rights, enhance health and safety, diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Governance: Initiatives aim to ensure ethical action, transparent reporting and board diversity, as well as fair compensation.

The Value in Communicating

Today, investors, customers, employees, regulators and others want to know how company leadership are managing the company’s resources, how they are working to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, how the company contributes to keeping the global supply chain intact, as well as how company initiatives support employee culture, mental health, wellness and professional growth. They want to know that leadership has examined the company’s environmental and social impacts and are moving forward with initiatives to lessen the company’s negative impact and enhance its positive impact.

Research demonstrates that if leadership can commit to ESG efforts, their teams will be happier, more productive and well-positioned to fuel innovation and the company’s future success. In fact, in a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 75% of respondents said ESG initiatives have a positive impact on employee engagement. Further, for companies with ESG strategies in place, 60% of respondents said the initiatives had a positive impact on retention and 64% saw a positive impact on recruitment. Finally, 86% of those working for companies with ESG strategies said those goals give them a sense of pride in working for their employer and translate to a more meaningful work experience.  

We know ESG has value and that many in leadership view it as a business imperative. However, ensuring the success of ESG initiatives requires a communications plan to accompany any ESG endeavor. A well-considered communication plan to help raise awareness around a company’s ESG goals, initiatives and progress will help the company convey its values.

Tips for Communicating ESG Initiatives and Progress

A public relations campaign will raise awareness around actions of your company toward social responsibility. But what is the best way to communicate ESG initiatives, particularly when society is taking a critical eye to ESG messaging, looking for evidence of greenwashing or corporate claims that can’t be substantiated?

Consider these best practices:

  • Establish a Quantifiable ESG Strategy: Understand what your company can do to make a positive impact on society or the environment in a quantifiable way. Set quantifiable goals, track results, demonstrate commitment from the top and report progress. Provide data to verify your results and avoid the appearance of greenwashing.
  • Find the Human Side: Where possible, pair this information with human impact stories. Demonstrate how the actions of your company made a difference.
  • Include Many Voices: Management cannot dictate ESG. Incorporating the voices and perspectives of a broad cross-section of the business who are committed to and aligned with the organization’s ESG goals and progress is key. This not only maintains accountability but also provides a range of voices and platforms to tell the organization’s ESG stories.
  • Shout it from the Rooftops – Artfully and Strategically: Explore and use a variety of public relations tactics from press releases to thought leadership and social media to find the best way to connect what your company is doing with your audience. Connect with PR experts who know the space and can demonstrate a record of proven results.
  • Be Consistent: Once you commit to an ESG strategy, it must remain as sacrosanct as the organization’s mission. This includes how you communicate around ESG. That consistency reassures a sometimes-skeptical audience that your organization is serious, committed and transparent in all its ESG undertakings.

Leaders who want to get ahead are employing or exploring ESG initiatives. That’s smart, but investors, customers, employees and more will lose confidence in their abilities to hold true to their commitments absent news on their progress. A good communication plan must be part of the process to ensure momentum that will allow the company to make a real impact, inspire others and change the future for the better.


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