How to communicate sustainability effectively

Ninety percent of companies in the S&P 500 publish a sustainability report. And many are unclear on who their audience is and what kind of content that audience is looking for, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars spent on reports that don’t help them reach their goals.

Creating effective sustainability communications starts with uncovering your goals, audiences, and what those audiences are looking for. Having a clear understanding of why your company communicates sustainability is critical for success. There are generally two main reasons for communicating environmental, social, and governance information to stakeholders: to demonstrate performance, and to build reputation.

Demonstrating performance

Your company’s performance matters to a range of stakeholders, but most importantly, to investors, ESG rating agencies, NGOs, and government regulators. These stakeholders are looking for a specific type of content. That includes data and analytics; management of risk; leadership alignment and governance; policies and codes of conduct; and external assurance and recognition.

They are the target audience of your reporting efforts. While they may be influenced by reputation-building content, their decision matrices are driven far more by hard data and policies than stories that pull on the heartstrings. Your report and other communications to this audience should be straight-forward and data-driven, featuring indices and clear links for finding specific content.

Building reputation

Companies invest heavily to drive continuous sustainability progress and performance and can maximize the ROI by effectively telling that story to stakeholders. By transforming the data and information in the report into emotive, engaging content, companies can improve their reputation in the eyes of customers, employees, communities, and the public.

As opposed to the more technical investor audience, these stakeholders are looking for high-level takeaways, stats, sound bites, and human-interest stories that they can easily consume through infographics, video, social media posts, and summary pieces.

Crafting your ESG communication strategy

The dated approach to sustainability reporting aims to appease multiple audiences by creating massive reports that demonstrate performance and build reputation — but in the end, achieve neither, and leave all stakeholders disappointed.

It’s more important than ever to be deliberate about our sustainability communications. By keeping these complementary drivers in mind, companies can create effective ESG communication strategies that increase the value of your company in the eyes of raters, investors, employees, customers, and the public.

Have questions about how to make the most of your next ESG report? Contact us at info@thinkparallax.com.