Independent Australian agency, Sefiani Communications Group, recently launched “Embedding sustainability into your narrative: risk, readiness and opportunity”, the second report in its thought leadership series, Communication that Matters. The report looks at the main challenges that hold businesses back from communicating their sustainability goals and actions, and provides a practical framework to help overcome them.
It combines insights gathered from in-depth interviews with local and global communication leaders, global best practice case examples and Sefiani’s own experience supporting sustainability marketing and communication activities for global and local organisations.
The report reveals a common challenge for communicators: while executives and employees want to do and say more about sustainability, they are held back by hesitation over how much to say, how far to go, and how bold to be.
And it boils down to one thing - fear. Fear of suffering reputational damage after saying the wrong thing, being misinterpreted by stakeholders or being accused of greenwashing. Fear of how to navigate sustainability risk and opportunity across a complex and evolving backdrop to a multitude of stakeholders. And fear of being able to successfully balance past realities with present demands while creating a credible vision for the future.
The report reveals three key challenges faced by businesses:
Sustainability remains siloed
More than two thirds of interviewees believed that most companies did not have an overarching vision for their sustainability commitments.
Sustainability sits within individual brands or departments inside organisations. Few organisations have managed to elevate conversations to an overarching narrative that is meaningful to all their stakeholders - from employees, customers, investors and partners to the wider community and government.
Employees want more say
76 per cent of employees want more opportunity to shape sustainability strategy.
Employees want more opportunities to take part in their company’s sustainability conversations and have meaningful roles that support the development and delivery of sustainability initiatives.
Leaders need to be courageous
Almost 80 per cent of interviewees said the number one trait of sustainability leadership is integrity.
Leaders today are more visible than ever before, but fear is holding organisations and their leaders back from saying anything meaningful or memorable. The leaders that commit to change, stand up, answer the tough questions honestly and inspire stakeholders to come on the sustainability journey will be the ones to stand out.
Sefiani’s report set out to provide a practical framework, focusing on three key opportunities for organisations to embed sustainability authentically into their company narrative:
1. Find your “North Star” - aligning purpose and sustainability
When purpose and sustainability come together, organisations are better equipped to develop a narrative that balances past realities with present demands with a vision for the future. A unified ‘North Star’ allows for honesty, vulnerability and transparency, and inspires creativity in storytelling.
2. Tap into your superpower - turning employees into sustainability champions
Building a workforce that is highly engaged and activated in sustainability initiatives is critical to the success and delivery of any sustainability strategy. Sefiani’s research found that marketing and comms teams wanted the ability to shape strategy and be actively involved in helping the organisation meet its commitments.
3. Communicate your vision with courage - balancing risk, readiness and reputation
Impactful leaders will be the ones with the courage and support to commit to change. True leaders will look outward to drive change beyond their own company, displaying empathy, leading with integrity, and creating an honest vision for the future.
Sefiani’s Managing Director, Mandy Galmes, who co-authored the report with the agency’s Director of Strategy and Creative, Nicole Thurston, Sustainability Communications Lead, Julia Hoy and Senior Account Director, Georgia Bennett, said commitment to action on climate change is one of the most significant and positive reputational steps an organisation or government can take: “As we have seen play out recently in Australia, leaders with a strong and authentic voice on sustainability in its full meaning are more highly regarded by the community, by industry and their global peers.
“Organisations and leaders have been held back by a fear of how much to say, how far to go and how bold to be when it comes to communicating their sustainability commitments. However, by being transparent, communicating progress honestly and demonstrating to stakeholders that sustainability is genuinely aligned to business strategy they provide stakeholders with certainty and stability which in turn drives business performance and public confidence”.
Julia Hoy said the role of communicators is being recognised as vital to the success of a sustainability strategy: “Effective communication can inform, inspire, engage, shift mindsets, and equip people with the skills they need to be part of the change as we move towards a more sustainable future.
“The pressure is now on businesses to step up and transparently and authentically communicate their sustainability commitments and planned trajectory.”
The full report can be downloaded here.