The art of modern sustainability communications

How leading businesses are embracing an audience-first approach

While sustainability is not a particularly new concept for many companies, engaging a modern audience with it certainly is. The truth that most of us in this space already know is well-treaded territory: Modern consumers and employees want to purchase from and work for businesses that align with or share similar values. In a contemporary context, running a “good” business requires more than just a growing financial bottom line; it means that organizations also create value for the world around them.

When sustainability is aligned with an organization’s mission, vision, and values, companies often experience a myriad of benefits: enhanced reputation, stakeholder engagement, and increased customer awareness and loyalty — but only if sustainability is communicated in a way that (first) actually gets the audience’s attention and (second) convinces the audience that they should care.

Although interest in sustainability is increasing, a huge gap has opened up between what audiences want to know and what companies actually tell them. Organizations can get caught in a swirling eddy of sustainability data, accomplishments, and accolades — which can be tedious to dig through and frankly not that interesting to the majority of stakeholders. As we see it, many companies still fail to connect sustainability back to the bigger picture or describe why any of this should matter to their audience.

The reasons for ineffective communication are varied: siloed organizational structure, breakdown of internal communication, lack of buy-in from key decision makers, etc. Many companies find themselves handcuffed by the limitations of their team’s resources, capacity, and budgets to meet the requirements of ever-evolving stakeholder expectations.

In any case, the gap between sustainability and effective communication tactics (that engage audiences — not just dump information on them) needs to be closed if we want to unlock the full range of benefits that sustainability can create.