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Sustainability communications: the conversation you can’t afford not to have

Your organization has a unique “sustainability” story, and your constituents are expecting to hear it from you – even if you don’t think you’re ready to tell it.

Consider that recent surveys tell us that:

  • More than 80 percent of U.S. workers want to work for a company that makes the environment a top priority.
  • A little over half of global consumers – representing some 1.1 billion people – prefer to purchase products and services from a company with a strong environmental reputation.
  • Approximately 70 percent of affluent Americans say they invest in companies that have active social responsibility and sustainability initiatives.

Although the term is sometimes applied arbitrarily, sustainability has a widely accepted definition: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” And one of the greatest challenges for today’s business leaders can be managing the “triple bottom line” of People, Planet and Profit, “The Three Ps” of sustainability.

So, what should you do from a communications standpoint? Some organizations choose a highly rigorous, time-consuming and data-driven approach – the idea that you “get all your ducks in a row” before committing to anything or talking to anyone. In our view, that’s much too long to wait.

No matter where you are in addressing sustainability, we recommend that you start having the conversations now – even if you don’t feel you have all the answers; in fact, especially if you feel that way. Frankly, there’s more downside in having your audience presume you don’t have anything to say than there is in beginning to talk about your commitment and process, and your ideas and aspirations.

Some key points to remember about the conversation:

  • This is not a one-time monologue; these should be ongoing two-way conversations.
  • Focus first on employees and key suppliers (those who can help you deliver on the strategy). Later, you can expand the discussion to customers, investors, the community and perhaps the media.
  • It doesn’t matter who initiates the conversations or what sparks them; what’s important is that you don’t avoid or ignore the opportunities.

Over time, the conversations will yield insight into the key metrics and goals for your organization. They will also provide the success stories and proof points you will need to tell a cohesive, consistent story to the outside world.

Not every organization is ready to tell its sustainability story to external audiences. But, if you’re still on the sidelines of sustainability communications, substantive engagement with employees and your supply chain is probably overdue. The conversations about your organization are already happening, with or without your involvement.

If you’d like to continue this conversation, please contact Gregg LaBar at 216-241-4614or glabar@dix-eaton.com. For more information on Sustainability Communications, visit Dix & Eaton’s Web site, see Gregg’s Three P’s blog or follow him on Twitter, @ThreePs.

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