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25.04.2022 By Meghann Johnson, SVP, Corporate Practice

When Every Day is Earth Day, How Should You Craft Your Sustainability Storytelling Strategy?

Image of planet earth appearing out of lawn of grass with a seedling growing out of it.

Years ago, Earth Day was a “blink and you missed it” moment – a blip on the calendar of global events. Today it’s a different story. In many ways, every day is Earth Day, and media across all sectors, geographies and issue areas are keenly focused on how policymakers, governments and others are stepping up their efforts to protect the planet. This includes corporations, which are being looked to as a key contributor in the fight against climate change.

For example, more and more consumers are compelling companies to adopt environmentally friendly practices. According to a recent survey of 10,000 people across 17 countries, sustainability is becoming increasingly important in purchasing decisions, especially as consumers see themselves and for-profit companies as primary catalysts for change (Source: Simon-Kucher & Partners). In fact, 85 percent of people indicate that they have shifted their purchase behavior towards being more sustainable in the past five years.

In the U.S., regulatory bodies are also driving added transparency among publicly traded companies. The SEC recently proposed a rule in which companies would be required to disclose information on climate risks facing their business, and plans to address those risks, along with metrics detailing the companies’ climate footprint including Scope 1, 2 and in some cases Scope 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

So as the world’s attention turns to the significant role corporations play in tackling climate change, how should communicators be, well, communicating around their strategies?

Setting sustainability goals is one thing, but supporting them with real, actionable, quantifiable results is critical in today’s highly scrutinized environment. We believe that the best sustainability communications rely on a mix of 1) sharing where your company is excelling or making gains, while 2) being transparent about areas in which you still need to improve. No matter where your company is in its sustainability journey, a thoughtful communications strategy should support your efforts. Below are four considerations when sharing your story – 365 days a year.

  • State your goals and provide updates along the way: With more companies committing to ambitious, long-term sustainability goals, it’s important that your audiences understand your path, while also receiving updates on your progress. This includes sharing key milestones and updates, as well as being transparent when a target or goal may be missed. Consistent communications will build confidence among your stakeholders, even when roadblocks arise.
  • Be intentional when thinking about your end-audience: While it’s important to consistently share where you’re going, communicators should be thoughtful about the audiences receiving their messages. Some updates may be best suited for internal communications, helping to build employee confidence and excitement in your organization’s progress. “Owned” channels such as a company blog or social media can also provide a forum for sharing progress along the way, while earned media should be reserved for larger progress you’re making. Thinking through not only your story, but the audiences to whom you share that story, is key in developing a winning communications strategy.
  • Tie external communications to where you’re making the most gains: There are many aspects of sustainability that are now expected for today’s companies. So, while it’s important to share what you’re doing on a regular basis (for example, via an annual ESG report), your external sustainability communications should be centered on larger efforts that underscore significant progress within your business and your operations.

Given that many companies are setting long-term goals (10, 20, 30 years), communicators should also think long-term about their communications plan, leaning into the areas where the business operations have the strongest story to tell, while seeking opportunities to address other aspects of its climate commitments as the business itself advances.

  • Drive impact beyond your four walls: Any person who’s been a part of sustainability efforts knows a successful program should not only consider your own company’s goals, but also how the private sector can impact change for the greater good. This could include investing in research, making grants to NGOs focused on progressing change, or developing community programs that complement your own sustainability goals. For example, a company exploring the use of solar power at its facilities can simultaneously support research into solar across its entire industry or contribute to community partners working toward a similar goal.

Thinking this way about sustainability efforts can highlight how a company is truly a part of the solution, both within its operations and as an overall catalyst for change.

We recognize the corporate sustainability journey is long and will truly never be done. This is why it’s important to thoughtfully communicate progress (and setbacks) along the way. Devising a strategic communications program that complements your sustainability efforts will enable you to build trust, show action, and ultimately be a part of the crucial effort to curb climate change.


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