The number of companies facing a backlash for greenwashing in relation to their sustainability initiatives is on the rise. Responsible businesses are rightfully afraid of greenwashing, especially given the scale of potential fines, but there are clear actions businesses can take to avoid it, and companies should not be afraid to add ESG communications to their marketing strategy.
Despite the prevalence of greenhushing (which sees companies opting not to publish their activity under the environmental, social and governance workstreams for fear of scrutiny), these sorts of campaigns are still critical. Without sustainable business practices, the survival of the planet, and the future of every business, is at stake. And the more businesses see their competitors engaging in these practices, through effective and considered communications, the greater the pressure to act.
Demonstrating ESG values is increasingly important for business success. In fact, as many as 82% of consumers now want a brand’s values to align with their own. However, ESG communications and ESG reporting must be carried out truthfully and in line with corporate values to avoid these traps and risks.
Commit to transparency
A strong ESG marketing strategy should be built on a foundation of trust, transparency and authenticity. ESG principles and policies must be baked into the DNA of the company for marketing efforts which centre ESG to be successful.
This is why the most successful campaigns come from businesses that live and breathe their ESG and sustainability work. One example comes from Ben and Jerry’s, which has a long history of corporate social responsibility. Their most recent campaign involved a transition of all their EU bulk tubs to be 100% post-consumer recycled material. As well as promoting their product, they used the move as an opportunity to educate audiences and ice cream eaters on the impact of plastic pollution on our environment.
Not every company has marketing teams or budgets to match Ben and Jerry’s, but irrespective of your business, there are steps you can take to feel confident about promoting your ESG practices responsibly and accurately.
Working with experts
Working with third-party experts is one of the best ways to ensure that your ESG initiatives are up to standard. Many brands work with consultants to help them set science-based goals and implement strategies to achieve them. After all, there are global standards in these areas. The Global ESG Disclosure Standards for Investment Products and the Science-Based Targets Initiative, for example.
The world of ESG reporting is evolving too, and specialists will be able to guide your business about which frameworks you should align to, supporting with compiling ESG data and converting this into strategies and ultimately reports, to keep the business accountable long-term.
In terms of ESG marketing and communications, these frameworks and accreditations, along with the data on your company’s actions, contribute towards ESG message development. It’s important to work with PR specialists who also understand sustainable strategies, and are able to ask the right questions to anticipate any greenwashing risks.
These experts would also ensure that you’re using up-to-date language and terminology. And that the language you are using is the most effective for your brand, reflecting your company’s culture.
Understanding the audiences for your ESG efforts
ESG values must extend beyond the four walls of your company, and permeate into relationships, investments and partnerships also. After all, your ESG performance will be monitored by investors, employees, journalists, partners and the general public.
ESG marketing strategies are only effective when there is complete transparency about your operations. When you share your sustainability initiatives, you’re going to need to know that they stand up to scrutiny.
How to demonstrate your ESG work
Once you know what issues are mission-critical for your business (likely following a materiality assessment process), you can start to think about the most effective ways to promote your messaging. ESG marketing is all about making a difference and building a positive reputation for your brand. This is where public relations efforts can make a real difference.
The advantage of working with a trusted PR partner is that they can help to filter which initiatives and updates will make for relevant news updates, and which are more suited to internal audiences.
Press releases provide an effective way to promote your company’s commitment to positive change. They can give you access to a wider audience, which can help engage customers and boost brand loyalty. It can also help you boost your SEO efforts and increase your online engagement.
However, a press release on ESG efforts will not only need to be informative and factual (like any press release), but it will also need to demonstrate innovation and evidence of going beyond the norm. Attempts to present business-as-usual as progress will undermine the company’s brand.
Website content marketing
Publishing your ESG story on your own website is a great way to control what’s being said, and how you frame your activity. It’s also a great way to build SEO opportunities and bring more traffic to your website. But although it is owned content, it should still pass the high standards of verification as any other ESG marketing effort.
Pertinent content can help you build authority in your industry, and strengthen brand recognition. Content marketing can give you a real competitive edge, but it requires a lot of effort and know-how. It’s commonly understood that content marketing is a powerful tool, but it’s also a long-term effort involving consistent work and updating.
Native ads and amplification
Another powerful way to boost your company’s strategy and ESG goals is to use paid media coverage. A native ad is more effective at building brand awareness. They’re also proven to be much more engaging because they can resonate with audiences without feeling disruptive.
Much like website content marketing, however, native ads can be time and labour-intensive. It also takes a lot of effort to create an ad that doesn’t feel overly deceptive to the user. ESG issues, in particular, have to be talked about in a specific way that doesn’t feel overly sales-oriented.
Taking ESG marketing and communications strategy to the next level
This is just a snapshot of some of the ways you can demonstrate sustainable strategies to stakeholders, to increase brand loyalty, attract talent and ultimately contribute towards a healthier and happier planet. As long as transparency and a commitment to positive impact underpin your communications, you should feel confident to develop a marketing strategy relating to ESG and sustainability.
Do you need support for your ESG message development and strategy? Contact the team at Ambitious to find out how we can help you build and promote your ESG story.