Article | 22 Apr 2024

Effective Sustainability Communication in the Age of Transparency

Posted in Business, Industry news, Top tips, Tools & Advice, Client,

In recent years, the push towards greater transparency in environmental claims and sustainability reporting has intensified, with significant regulations coming into effect across the European Union and the impending changes in the United Kingdom. As these regions set rigorous standards, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) find themselves at a critical juncture where adaptation is not just beneficial but necessary.

This necessity comes in light of the Green Claims Directive adopted by the EU in March 2023, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) that became effective in January 2024, and the UK's plans to introduce its own Sustainability Disclosure Standards by July 2024. This Earth Day is an opportune time for SMEs to consider how effective sustainability communications can not only comply with these new regulations but also enhance their market position and public perception.

Understanding the Regulatory Landscape

The regulatory environment is tightening, with a clear message that greenwashing and greenhushing will no longer be tolerated. The EU's Green Claims Directive aims to standardise the claims companies make about their environmental impact, providing a clear framework for authenticity.

Similarly, the CSRD requires companies to provide more detailed environmental and social disclosures, significantly expanding the number of companies that must comply. In the UK, although details are still being finalised, similar standards will require transparency and detailed reporting.

For SMEs, understanding these regulations is the first step towards compliance. Unlike larger corporations that might already have dedicated teams to tackle sustainability reporting, SMEs often lack the resources and expertise. Therefore, the role of sustainability consultants becomes crucial. These professionals can help SMEs conduct environmental audits, set measurable sustainability goals, and create frameworks for ongoing compliance and reporting.

Crafting a Sustainability Communications Strategy

Once SMEs have a solid understanding of their sustainability performance, the next step is to communicate these efforts effectively. The goal of sustainability communications is not just to report facts but to engage with customers, investors, and the wider public in a manner that builds trust and enhances the company's brand.

1. Authenticity in Messaging

In the age of transparency, authenticity is crucial. Companies should strive to communicate their sustainability efforts honestly, avoiding overstatements and clearly explaining any areas where improvements are needed. This honesty not only aligns with regulatory requirements but also builds consumer trust.

“Above all, companies must be transparent about their sustainability strategies, their objectives and the challenges they face. Sharing data builds credibility and trust with stakeholders, helping companies steer clear of greenwash and instead making the business case for sustainability. But all of this is redundant if the audience does not understand the story, which must resonate with their values, concerns and interests.” – Oliver Wagg, Partner at Deep Green Media

2. Engaging Content

There are many ways one can send a message, especially when considering something as dense and complicated as ESG. It’s one thing to simply release a list of everything you’ve accomplished, like:

  • We sponsored a polar bear
  • We had a day where we cleaned up a river
  • We each planted flowers on our home windowsills

But these don’t capture the hearts and imaginations of readers in the same way that a video, series of images, or even a passionately told story would. You could partner with a larger NGO or influencer to help spread your message further, or even invite your audience to participate in a similar cause, using your platform to further the cause.

With just a bit more work, the above list becomes:

  • We sponsored Gordon the polar bear. Click here to see a video of him in his safe new environment!
  • We partnered with River Clean Up Non-Profit in order to help clean the river next to our office. Here are some photos of our day out.
  • We encouraged our employees to plant flowers in their neighbourhoods to help the bees. You’ll receive a packet of seeds with any new purchase and can help further our cause!

3. Leveraging Digital Platforms

Digital platforms offer a powerful means to disseminate sustainability communications. Whether through a dedicated sustainability section on the company website, regular posts on social media, or through digital newsletters, these platforms allow for direct and immediate interaction with the audience.

4. Monitoring Feedback

Communication is a two-way street. SMEs should monitor how their sustainability communications are received and be prepared to engage in conversations with their stakeholders. This feedback loop is invaluable for continuous improvement and helps maintain a positive public image.

“Aligning with evolving regulations, effective sustainability communications not only ensure compliance but also elevate market standing and public perception. Sustainability communications extend beyond conveying a message – they sculpt a brand's identity and reputation."

“When businesses authentically share how their sustainability initiatives comply with regulations and legal frameworks, they establish a sense of trust and credibility, mitigating risks, shaping consumer preferences and investor decisions. The link between sustainability and business success is not just altruistic; it's pragmatic."

“By communicating these outcomes, businesses demonstrate their ability to adapt to changing realities and secure their position in a forward-looking marketplace. Successful sustainability communications are built upon a bedrock of principles that guide authenticity, credibility, and ethical engagement." – Adisa Amanor-Wilks, Director, Abjel Communications

How The Work Crowd can help

For SMEs, effective sustainability communications are not just about regulatory compliance; they are about securing a competitive edge in a market that increasingly values environmental responsibility. By investing in robust sustainability practices and transparent, engaging communications, SMEs can not only meet the demands of the present but also position themselves for future success.

All of that being said, it can be difficult to get a grip on the emotional tone and legal content that one needs in order to hit the nail on the head when writing effective sustainability comms material.

That’s where The Work Crowd can come to the rescue. Our network of over 5,000 independent consultants offers a wide range of sustainability experts, including sustainability consultants who can conduct audits to help you measure and improve your sustainability performance. You can then hire a sustainability comms pro to help you spread the word of your achievements.