When communicating on sustainability, actions shouldn’t speak louder than words; the two should be aligned

Today everyone is talking about sustainability – especially within the industrial markets where many of our clients are struggling to come up with a message that is unique and conveys what they are trying to do. This is because there is a whole spectrum of sustainability out there, ranging from the very weak to the very strong.

While some companies can share impactful innovations in the areas of recycling or new materials, most of the time, when companies talk about being sustainable, they are talking comparatively: a pack that uses fewer resources and generates less carbon emissions than others on the market. This too is a good thing, but what can you be talking about between these launches and while you are working on reaching your carbon reduction goals?

More than ever, supply chain partners and customers want to know that their suppliers are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact; consumers want assurance that products they are buying won’t harm the planet. And believe it or not, the media isn’t bored of sustainability, but they are looking for new ways to advance your story forward.  

That was why we chose sustainability as the focus of our 2021 Communicator Summit. At the event, that took place on September 16, we brought our clients together with experts to discuss a range of topics relating to sustainability communications – from how to align your company’s sustainability plan to your marketing and communications strategy, to future directions for sustainability in the plastics industry.


Dos and don’ts of communicating on sustainability

On the back of this Summit, we have come up with a few pointers for telling an authentic and effective story that resonates rather than jars with B2B audiences:

  • Don’t communicate in a silo: carry out industry listening to see what environmental initiatives your competitors are implementing and how they are communicating. This was one of the key takeaways from our Communicator’s Summit and insights from our guest speakers Malcolm Forsyth (sustainability consultant), Jonathan Graham (Green Sustainable Printing Partnership) and Karen Laird (editor, Sustainable Plastics).

  • Do stick to the facts: your sustainability story must have enough evidence behind it to stand up to scrutiny. Don’t try and dress things up to make them sound better than they are, or present yourself as something you’re not. Have the evidence to back up your message, or don’t say it. Clear, supporting data is a must, but try not to overwhelm your audience with overly complex data, either.

  • Don’t be afraid to admit imperfection: you don’t need to have all the answers or solutions to have a point of view – you can share thinking on the future direction of a particular sustainability issue, or explain how you’re working towards a solution. Equally, it doesn’t matter if you’re only just starting to measure your carbon emissions or you have fallen short of targets, for example. People respect honesty and genuine intentions more than bragging about achievements. Speak from a place of doing your part rather than being a hero.

  • Do be true to your values: make sure that your sustainability messaging is aligned to your brand and business and that your sustainability initiatives are related to your expertise. That’s where you’ll do the most good, and it’s where people will most easily connect your efforts with your brand. For example, if you’re a honey producer then making a donation to a bee protection charity for every jar sold makes complete sense. Avoid the use of generic stock sustainability imagery, such as light bulbs, sad polar bears and wind turbines, unless they are entirely relevant - they will only make your words ring hollow.

  • Don’t insult your audience’s intelligence: many sustainability initiatives inherently go hand in hand with an efficiency gain or cost saving, often because they save energy, water or other resources. The idea of ‘doing good’ for financial gain can open your company up to criticism. The best antidote to this is full transparency and humility. Take the example of the additives manufacturer who has pledged to plant trees for every customer that signs up to a co-branding agreement. Clearly, there is a commercial as well as an environmental benefit. In these situations, being honest about your motivations is a must. It is also about being careful about what initiatives you hang your hat on. Today’s consumer wants more. They want you to be proactive, and they want to see you implementing behaviours that affect more than just your bottom line.

If you weren’t able to attend our Communicator Summit, feel free to get in touch if you’d like us to help you on your journey to creating a sustainability strategy.


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