As a relative newbie to the concept of sustainability, I knew that were would be a whole set of beliefs and expectations I had never encountered before. However, I didn’t anticipate just how many layers and facets there are. My findings this week establish how sustainability exists not only as a measured attempt to avoid the unnecessary consumption of natural resources, but also a verifiable business method.
In The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s webinar Rebuilding Customer Trust with Stronger Sustainability Communication, Mike Hower of Edelman’s Business + Social Purpose Practice describes how organizations can use sustainability as a communications strategy to improve their overall brand reputation. The discussion hinges on “sustainability storytelling,” or the way in which positive sustainability practices can be packaged and promoted to engage customers and local communities on sustainability and improve the company’s bottom line.
Sustainability storytelling covers a lot of ground, from energy to waste management to climate change to water supply to pollution. In his presentation, Hower breaks it down into specific takeaways. These principles are distinct threads that can be looped together to create a marketable, mainstream image of sustainability. This “story” allows an organization to not only meaningfully contribute to a healthier environment, but also significantly boost its public image. However, successfully telling this story in an engaging, thoughtful, and convincing manner can be a difficult task.
In his presentation, Hower discusses the importance of avoiding puffery. It’s easy to create a dramatic, Shakespearean campaign that appeals to the general public’s fear of a big-budget disaster movie finally becoming reality. However, images of tsunamis and volcanic eruptions will only cause momentary distress, not inspire legitimate action. Encouraging the implementation of sustainability involves effective, open communication that aims to inform, not to depress. Marketing can’t feel like a cash-grab. It can’t be portrayed as an intangible, abstract concept that capitalizes on sustainability ’s trendiness, because you’ll lose your audience’s trust. Instead, you need to be as accessible and transparent as possible. You’ll have failures and times when it feels like more trouble than it’s worth, but the results in the long-run will enrich your company and your customers.
The Bottom Line
My biggest takeaway from this webinar is the surprising connection between sustainability and social awareness. Both for-profit businesses and not-for-profit organizations, as well as individuals who promote the importance of sustainability, help create workplaces that educate, bring awareness, and inspire action. As it happens, the financial incentives and boost to your company’s image aren’t so bad either.