WEDNESDAY 28 OCT 2020 11:38 AM


Let’s ensure our companies and brands really want to contribute and that we are involved in developing commitments that strike the economic, social and environmental balance, says Naomi Jones, communications and marketing director at Suez.

We know that employees and customers today expect brands to commit to wider societal and environmental responsibilities. According to professor Isaac Getz, 89% of consumers would switch from their usual brand to one with a social mission.

It is true that in the first couple of months of the pandemic, as the country went into crisis management mode, matters such as the protests by Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg holding world leaders to account and the forest fires which caused devastation in Australia felt a lifetime ago.

However, as employees and customers start to come out of the regression phase in the crisis curve, a desire for brands to be accountable and leave the world in a better place is firmly back in people’s minds. According to GlobeScan’s recent worldwide survey, citizens are reawakening to the fact that climate change is a crisis not be to ignored.

So how do brands commit to giving back to society and combat climate change in a post-Covid world?

First of all, your sustainability strategy needs to include a tangible and ambitious plan for future actions and to be fully integrated into the business plan. Similarly, sustainability comms must be rooted in strategic action and for this, a close partnership between sustainability and communications teams is essential. And what if you are in recovery mode and your carefully planned comms strategy for 2020 has gone out the window? Then make sustainability commitments a fundamental part of your comms recovery plan.

This is essential to avoiding the dreaded ‘greenwashing’ tag. In times when communications professionals are working at full pelt, it can be easy to fall into working project to project. But this is when greenwashing most occurs, as sustainability actions appear campaign driven as opposed to part of a long-term company strategy.

An open, transparent and humble approach also helps to avoid accusations of greenwashing. At the risk of sounding like a reality TV contestant, it is all about the journey. It is much better to say, “We are not 100% there, but this is what we have done and this is what we are committed to,” than to exaggerate or make false or misleading claims.

Equally critical is focussing on your internal plans, commitments and engagement before you go external. This is because having a brand and culture match is important for authenticity. But it is also for a second reason. Nowadays, sustainability communications has moved from ‘how are you mitigating risk as a company,’ to ‘how can you help me be more sustainable at home and at work as an employee or customer.’ It has become much more personal, and this new dynamic is better expressed through your employees and storytelling than reporting facts and figures. Therefore, your employees believing in your sustainability commitments is key.

It is also time to think outside the box. Can’t do your usual community or school outreach work? Then develop resources to help give the same experience virtually.

As Kevin McCloud said, “Sustainability is now a big baggy sack in which people throw all kinds of old ideas, hot air and dodgy activities in order to be able to greenwash their products and feel good.”

Let’s be better than this. As communicators, let’s ensure our companies and brands really want to contribute and that we are involved in developing commitments that strike the economic, social and environmental balance. Let our communications help move your company from wanting to be seen to be making a difference, to driving forward genuine change and results.

Naomi Jones is the communciations and marketing director at Suez. Suez is shortlisted in this year's Corporate Engagement Awards and Internal Communications and Engagement Awards.