TUESDAY 26 MAY 2015 9:58 AM


Communicating about the necessity, benefits and processes involved in corporate sustainability and CSR can be a difficult thing for even the most assiduous communicator to manage. At the Sustainability Communications Forum last week in London, sustainability managers from a host of different businesses shared their tips, experiences, challenges and frustrations with their peers.

“Sometimes, quite a lot of people don’t care,” says Matthew Bradley, head of environmental sustainability at Capgemini. He said this surprising fact made sustainability comms, especially internally, a challenge, yet one that has yielded interesting results. For most speakers at the conference, finding a way to talk to business leaders, employees and stakeholders about sustainability is both a top priority and a feat of verbal gymnastics.

Amber Harrison, director of CSR at airline services firm SITA, says she had to make sustainability relevant to her audiences. She encouraged operations managers to think about their processes and determine where they could be more efficient, thus saving money and meeting sustainability standards simultaneously. “You can give people far too much information,” she says. The best approach is to share “The kind of thing that you could explain to your granny.”

Her story was not unique in that most communicators in sustainability and CSR are forced to think creatively in order to communicate with stakeholders. For agricultural supply chain middleman Olam, sustainability had to be discussed with farmers of all sizes, clients of all sizes and business leaders. However, when framed within the argument of sustainability as a case for better, more efficient, long-term focused business, global head of corporate and sustainability comms Briony Mathieson found it an easier task.

Some businesses, however, have the resources to transform themselves into all-around sustainable businesses, thus eliminating the need for communicators to explain the benefits of sustainability. Donald Johnson, Head of corporate responsibility and brand strategy at the National Grid, has led his company on a long journey toward being a sustainably-minded brand. The company now defines itself around its benefit to its stakeholders, with sustainability at the heart of that value. Additionally, BUPA has made the shift to instituting a sustainability standards across the business. UK sustainability manager Lauren Young says key to that process was engaging the financial team and proving the fiscal benefit for making an investment in sustainable business.

The conference continued to discuss internal engagement around sustainability and the ways in which companies can build integrated sustainability communications.

The discussions on the day point to a mature corporate sustainability communications approach in most European businesses. While there is a way to go to improve stakeholders’ understanding of sustainability, communicators are well on their way to making business better.