7 Lessons on Sustainability Communications Strategy from The Responsible Business Awards Finalists

When it comes to sustainability messaging, companies are often faced with the challenge of keeping communications authentic, on-brand, and relevant to the consumer. The 7 nominees for The Ethical Corporation’s 2017 Responsible Business Awards, in the Sustainability Communications category, offer valuable insight for brands looking to share their social and environmental message with the world.

Here are 7 lessons on how to create impactful sustainability messaging campaigns drawn from the 7 projects nominated for Sustainability Communications Strategy of the Year:

1) Highlight problems in creative ways: Presenting big numbers about global crises like climate change, hunger, and breast cancer can be overwhelming and impersonal. To leave a lasting impression about both a planetary problem and your brand, think about ways you can discuss a pressing international challenge in a new, creative and more personal light.

An excellent example of a campaign that addresses a global problem in a novel way is Heineken International’s Tiger Beer: Air-Ink project. The beverage maker commissioned scientists to create ink from pollution, then employed artists to create murals and paintings with the ink.

It’s important to note that Heineken is making measurable improvements in supply chain sustainability, which gives them a leg to stand on when creating a campaign like this.

By piquing people’s interest with aesthetically appealing art, Heineken brought awareness to the pollution crisis as well as its Tiger Beer.

2) Leverage your supply chain for branded storytelling: To run a truly sustainable business it’s essential to tackle supply chain impacts, which on average account for 80 percent of corporate carbon footprints. Once you start using eco-friendly materials and energy, you can utilize your value chain to share your social good story.

A campaign that does a great job sharing a brand’s commitment to purposeful resource selection and fair trade practices is Timberland X Thread’s “From Bottle to Boot: Sharing Timberland and Thread’s Journey.” The video spot features footage of Thread’s founder, Ian Rosenberger, telling his story of how he was inspired to start the recycled plastic bottle fabric company after visiting Haiti and seeing first-hand the opportunity to create more jobs and fight waste at the same time.

The takeaway here is that creating content about your socially and environmentally responsible supply chain is an excellent angle for sustainable communications.

3) Offer valuable and actionable advice: Creating useful content for your target audience is a great way to spread awareness about environmental issues and strengthen consumer goodwill.

The B&Q Home and Garden Center’s report “The Nature of Gardens“ is an excellent example of a sustainability campaign that, not only speaks to customer desire to improve their garden with B&Q products, but also to offer insightful information on how to attract friendly wildlife to people’s backyard while preserving the biodiversity of fauna in urban environments.

Essentially, giving people valuable tips and guides on how to use your products or services to help the environment and get personal enjoyment is a great way to affiliate your brand with sustainability.

4) Share insightful data on industry trends: An effective way to increase awareness about your brand and how you are working to progress cultural movements is to present information on sustainability trends relevant to your target audience.

A campaign that did an awesome job of compiling insightful trends in sustainability reporting, while also promoting organizational services, is WBCSD’s “Reporting Matters” study. The project highlights non-financial sustainability reporting standards from over 160 companies and illuminates common shortcoming and best practices in reporting practices. What’s more, by sharing pertinent information on industry trends, WBCSD is also able to add value to potential new partners that could join the global corporate sustainability alliance.

The lesson here is that sharing data relevant to your target audience that elucidates environmental trends is a great way to develop eco-friendly messaging and display brand involvement in sustainability.

5) Connect brand ethos with sustainability ethos: While it’s easy for a solar company to talk about climate change, it can be challenging for a company that sells apparel or software services to authentically communicate their sustainability initiatives. A great way to do this is by using the same tone and voice that’s used in your brand’s typical advertising and marketing campaigns when speaking about sustainability.

The “Nike Sustainable Innovation — More With Less“ spot is an amazing example of how to speak about environmental goals and practices while staying on brand. The spot features athletes in Nike attire and makes a parallel between how the company supports people to reach their physical limits by designing high-quality products and pushing the limits of sustainable manufacturing to make more with less.

Ultimately, maintaining your brand ethos in sustainability messaging is an great way to keep green campaigns on-brand.

6) Share how your social impact goals will benefit consumers and the planet: Just as putting a spotlight on your supply chain is a great way to share your commitment to environmentally and socially responsible business, mapping out how your sustainability targets will offset emissions, preserve ecosystems, and increase jobs is an excellent angle as well.

Barry Callebaut’s “Forever Chocolate“ animated video campaign smoothly conveys how the company’s sustainability targets will strengthen core business, ensures consumers that the company will never run out of the resources needed to make their favorite chocolate, and illustrates the brand’s commitment to social impact.

Ultimately, campaigns that focus on how environmental targets will benefit the company, its customers, and the planet are a powerful way to share your sustainability message.

7) Engage employees as brand ambassadors: Another excellent way to publicize your dedication to the triple bottom line is to engage employees in your brand’s story.

A great example of video campaign that positions employees as the face of the brand is DP World’s “Our World, Our Future“ spot. The logistics carrier presents its commitment to diversity and environmental stewardship by filming employees and operations facilities from the world over, which gives a human touch to CSR messaging.

Essentially, your employees are excellent representatives of your brand and can be awesome brand storytellers.

There are many ways to show the world how you are making a positive impact on the environment and society. The key takeaway is that the best communication strategies combine creativity, useful information, authentic storytelling, and behind-the-scenes insights to display how brands are creating value and progressing the planet.

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Simon Mainwaring

Founder/CEO brand consultancy, We First, bestselling author of We First and Lead With We, host of podcast, Lead With We.