Edinburgh’s April Green Monday focussed on how to successfully communicate Sustainability strategies. Having a good Sustainability strategy is obviously the most important step, but companies can fail if they do not communicate this strategy effectively to their various stakeholders. In our survey of 90 Heads of Sustainability this came out as a top three topic, so it is still an area where sustainability functions are looking to become more effective – and critical to building momentum into sustainability strategies.
Four speakers relayed their experience in this area: Mark Brumwell (Partner and Head of Environmental Law, Dundas & Wilson), Solitaire Townsend, (Co-founder, Futerra), Marianne Harper Gow, (Head of ESG Research, Baillie Gifford) and Steven Stewart, (Director of Corporate Communications, Stagecoach Group plc)
Mark Brumwell Partner and Head of Environmental Law, Dundas & Wilson
Mark opened the session with an introduction on the how the “Equator Principles” have become the industry benchmark - the Gold Standard - for banks wanting to invest sustainably. Banks communicate their intent by signing up to the Principles, which are currently under review to ensure that they remain leading edge. Mark's experience is that the banking sector is more consistent and active than other parts of the business community in the way it delivers on Sustainability, for example; the sector requests suppliers to submit annual returns on Sustainability performance and are vigilant about the risks associated with “greenwashing”. Signing up to the Equator Principles is therefore seen as a tangible way to communicate commitment.
Marianne Harper Gow, Head of ESG Research, Baillie Gifford
Pension funds are motivated by investment risks and returns. So as a company communicating with pension funds, one needs to think about; what you are communicating, to whom, and why. The best way to get through is by phone and any investor would prefer to speak to the CEO of a company than the communications expert. Sustainability reports are useful - they express intent as well as implementation and performance. Investors recognise that well implemented Sustainability strategy leads to positive branding, access to capital, reduced insurance and better relationships with regulators. The BP/Horizon oil spill has put regulation high up the agenda again - every regulator in the world is looking to see how BP is dealing with the authorities in the aftermath, and investors are alert to developments in the area too.
Steven Stewart, Director of Corporate Communications, Stagecoach Group plc
Stagecoach has been working on its Sustainability strategy since 2000, but only began communicating it in 2005. Combining a top-down with a bottom-up organic communications strategy and an on-board CEO as figurehead is key. When communicating to the public, keep it real and tangible, don't over-claim and make sure you disclose and report. There is nothing wrong with capturing the imagination with grass roots initiatives - in the case of Stagecoach the 'bio bus' has been a great public success, boosted by media claims that it was run on chip fat. When talking to employees focus on simple actions and build in incentives. For instance, Stagecoach drivers benefit from a bonus pot if they drive more efficiently.
Solitaire Townsend, Co-founder, Futerra
90% of people say they are willing to do something about environmental issues but only about a third actually do. When communicating, bear in mind three main groups of people:
Settlers - the brick wedge. Small world thinkers focused on home and community. They are upset about litter and dog mess, but not so worried about climate change, so 'planet' messages don't work for them, but communications that make them feel safe do.
Pioneers - the green wedge. A group that's frustrated and worried that Bangladesh will be lost to climate change. They were the first to buy a Prius, but move on to another car if it becomes popular. Unlike the settlers, they would not know if the lady next door is unwell. These people enjoy messages that talk about changing the world.
Prospectors - the gold wedge. They are interested in what other people think of them. Messages that work for this group focus on the normality of the activity, how everyone is doing it.
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