Why communication makes or breaks your sustainability strategy

Did you know that Walmart is spearheading an initiative to avoid one billion metric tons (a gigaton) of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2030? Or that 7-Eleven has an Operation Chill program designed to reduce crime and enhance relations between police and youth… and that it has been going on for more than 23 years? Or that Mastercard is a leader in employee diversity and inclusion with twice as many women in the top two levels of management than the S&P 500?

We are going to guess probably not. If by the off chance you did, do you think the customers of those brands know? What about their employees? Their community members? Shareholders?

While the answer should be a resounding ‘yes’, the unfortunate reality is that they likely do not.

We’ve written articles, presented at conferences, and hosted webinars detailing how purpose-driven companies experience such benefits as improved reputation, brand advocacy, recruitment, retention, and community support. However, it is all under the assumption that the purpose of the company and its related citizenship initiatives are known and effectively communicated to each appropriate audience group.

As a branding and communications agency, we (somewhat biasedly) believe that giving voice and meaning to a company’s impact is essential to the overall ROI. This is not to imply that a company should do good solely for financial gain; however, it is important that citizenship efforts results in long-term value creation. The effectiveness of a brands’ citizenship and sustainability initiatives depend on a variety of factors but communication is the key component that ties it all together. If a brand’s impact is not communicated well, its influence will be minimal, discouraging the brand from continuing to be a force for good.  

Clearly articulating and amplifying a brand’s impact to the intended audience will drive it towards long-term success and allow it to continue to drive change. Customers stepping into a Patagonia store consciously purchase their products because of its responsible supply chain, potential and current Google employees are aware of the perks and benefits that set the company apart from its peers, and investors who share the same sentiment as Larry Fink seek to invest in companies like Southwest Airlines that are actively reporting on their social and environmental impact.

Walmart, 7-Eleven, and MasterCard are taking actions to address relevant issues that help forge the way towards change. In order for these companies, and many others whose citizenship initiatives are unknown, to continue to create impact, they must effectively get the right content in front of the right audience. We help our clients more effectively define their audiences, what those audiences care about, and how to get the appropriate content to them. If your organization has made the effort to put a CSR program in place, it is time to align it with your marketing, internal, and external communication efforts to continue to drive impact and create long-term success.