ESG communications

Kickstarting your ESG communications: don’t let PR lag behind

Perhaps, like many businesses, you’ve decided to make environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues central to your business planning and strategy in 2022.

For many companies, charitable giving and a commitment to responsible behaviour are part of their DNA. But embedding ESG principles takes this even further, requiring a more wholesale view of how your company operates.

Before developing an ESG communications plan, there is likely to be a considerable amount of work required internally. For example, to assess or redraft existing policies, map your supply chain, or set science-based decarbonisation targets.

Incorporate your ESG strategy into comms

While these changes must be driven across all business areas, incorporating PR and communications early is critical. In fact, these best practice tips demonstrate that the disciplines are closely linked. In fact, nearly one in five (19%) of organisations expect their head of communications/PR to lead on ESG.

Knowing this, your communications are an essential part of how you develop your ESG strategy and implement your sustainability narrative. ESG is not just external and encompasses lots of internal work that employees should be a part of. Investment in ESG goes beyond products and services and includes your workforce.

Top tips which will enhance both your PR and ESG communications strategies:

  1. Connect your E-S-and-G

While dividing ESG into themes is a helpful structuring mechanism, there is nothing to be gained by keeping them separate as you enact new approaches. For society, the urgent need to decarbonise represents a huge opportunity for employment – what is often called the ‘green economy’ or the ‘just transition’. Clearly, businesses have a part to play in this, and finding and articulating this role will provide ample opportunities for external communication.

Equally, reviewing governance structures, including more diverse voices and improving lines of communication between the Board level and your employees can have tangible benefits which will help to meet targets under the ‘social’ component of ESG.

Creating or revisiting your mission statement with an ESG lens could be the best place to start when it comes to connecting the E-S and G, and to driving change across the entire business.

  1. Find the approach which fits your business’ story – but stay within the rules

Even large scale multi-national businesses cannot afford to reform and communicate every single component of ESG at once. This is a basic principle that would apply to any new business initiative or product. Rely on your expertise and market position to determine your focus, and prioritise what is already underway or can be expanded.

At the start of your ESG journey, this may mean focusing on the actions you’re already taking. This could include charitable donations or work in the community. The aim is to avoid greenwashing or making statements that cannot be substantiated. This is particularly crucial as the CMA begins to enforce the Green Claims Code for businesses.

  1. Internal communications should come first 

Research by Escape the City found that 49% of respondents want a clearer sense of purpose in their professional life as a result of the pandemic, and as the research notes, that sense of shared purpose allows connections to be rebuilt – after months of home-working – within teams and between employer and employee.

So defining your ESG strategy and mission is vital for employee retention and recruitment. Unfortunately, far too many businesses communicate externally first around ESG. For example by setting and publicising their carbon reduction targets, without explaining what this means for employees’ travel policies.

This outside-first approach risks dissatisfaction and may expose you to greenwashing, as well as cutting off a valuable communication channel in the shape of employee advocacy.

  1. Make the most of employees as advocates

Those employees who take a particular interest in ESG issues can become your spokespeople. Depending on the size and nature of your business, they can be drawn from across a range of disciplines and levels. Empowering employees in this way also helps demonstrate your commitment to the values which underpin ESG.

  1. Employ outside experts, join industry networks

There is nothing to be gained from going it alone, and a collaborative approach will also benefit your PR strategy. For example, gaining B-Corp accreditation provides access to an entire community of purpose-driven businesses. The membership of an industry body may open up commercial opportunities or access to new platforms or speaking events.

Working with external sustainability advisors, PR consultants and industry partners will also help you to validate your ESG approach, avoid groupthink and ensure you’re keeping up with the most important trends.

Whatever your business’ drivers for examining your ESG strategy, make 2022 the year you take action, and incorporate PR every step of the way.

  1. Make your ESG data publicly available information

Ensure your ESG information is clearly communicated, starting with your website, for example with graphics or through visual reports. Ensure your information covers the full breadth of ESG including how you approach social issues and collaborate with your stakeholders. Sustainability disclosure and reporting frameworks are only going to increase in number, and potential employees, partners and investors will come looking for ESG information.

  1. Make the most of your ESG reports

ESG reporting can take many forms, from self-produced impact reports to full-scale Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI) standards-aligned reporting. Understanding the best practice for your sector is essential, but so is allowing your company story to shine through.

Increasingly, businesses are seeing how ESG data reporting can move beyond dry data tables and be used to engage new audiences interested in sustainability and social impact, as well as providing a bank of assets for use across your social media channels.

ESG integration should be reported externally and internally to ensure that your company demonstrates its expertise. That’s where ESG communications become an essential tool for this.

  1. Own your ESG story

Take the lead in your ESG communications to ensure your sustainability narrative is told in the right way. Your ESG efforts are an increasingly important part of your brand story and building trust in your company. From sustainable investment to ESG policies, it’s imperative to control your story.

Consider the above and how to translate these into tactics that make an impact on your audiences. Stakeholders, employees, clients, potential clients and employees will want to understand your approach before they make an investment or commitment to your company.

Why ESG communications?

Developing communications to support your ESG initiatives will quickly bear fruit. Whether that’s in the most traditional sense of mitigating potential risks surrounding ESG issues, retaining an increasingly purpose-driven workforce or improved sales growth and sustainable development for stakeholders.

ESG communications work

Discover how you can communicate your ESG work effectively and thoroughly, book your strategy call with us.