Corporate action on carbon reduction, renewable energy, waste, water conservation and climate change are at an all-time high. More than 90% of companies in our recent market survey report that they have set goals on energy or sustainability (74% of them have made these goals public) and 75% of these same companies have increased their goals over those previously set.
What’s surprising, though, is what’s driving this activity. Survey respondents told us that the second highest driver for why they look at reducing resource consumption or switch to renewables, is brand improvement, which ranked above pressure from stakeholders including consumers, investors and senior leaders.
This result is indicative of the increasingly competitive sustainability communications space. A few years ago, big brands could be assured of receiving media attention when making announcements relating to sustainability. Today, these announcements are common—and the resulting pressure to compete is clearly driving brands to act.
And the stakes keep getting higher. Environmental-commitment leader, Microsoft, recently announced plans that the company would be carbon negative by 2030 – one of the boldest commitments made to date. Others, like Amazon, are setting carbon neutrality goals, while others, including our client Maple Leaf Foods, have achieved Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon neutrality using a combination of high-quality EACs and carbon offsets, along with efficiency measures.
Emerging with the bolder and more science-based commitments is a growing need for brands to stay on top of market factors and ensure that their communications team is prepared to deliver complex energy and sustainability claims and messaging. Increasingly, companies are hiring specialists in sustainability and communications to ensure that their brand and reputation are protected.
In our work on marketing and communications consulting with some of the largest brands in the world, the Schneider Electric communications team has gleaned five key takeaways for a successful sustainability communications strategy. Whether you’re a sustainability communications specialist or a marketing or communications professional working for a company with public energy or sustainability goals, we recommend keeping these tips in mind.
Connect all stakeholders
While communications professionals are used to working with a variety of cross-functional teams, many may be unfamiliar with the unique needs and considerations associated with an environmentally-driven announcement. It’s important for communications teams and their sustainability counterparts to ensure that they are aligned and communicating regularly, particularly as large announcement dates approach, but also on an ongoing basis to take advantage of milestone news or to manage any negative press.
Many of our customers initially start their announcement journey with a press release. But those that develop a complete and multi-channel plan experience a vast improvement in reach and engagement. Consider our client Fifth Third Bank, who developed a comprehensive communications plan for their renewable PPA announcement in 2018. The plan included a traditional news release, but also used stickier tactics like ringing the Nasdaq bell the day of the announcement and holding a press event at the project’s operational ribbon cutting. Two years later, Fifth Third Bank and its sustainability leaders continue to reap the benefits of the announcement, such as additional press and speaking opportunities.
Make green media part of your plan
Many communications teams have strong relationships with industry- and tier media, but these same brands may be unfamiliar with key green media players like GreenBiz, Smart Energy Decisions, Greentech Media, Clean Technica and more. These are go-to news sources for energy and sustainability professionals and these publications can be a valuable component to add to an announcement strategy—particularly to help drive continued competitive pressure and demonstrate leadership.
Seize the opportunity to lead
Leadership is a key reason to share more about your sustainability story more broadly. Whether it’s a CEO announcement about a public goal at a high-visibility event, or a comprehensive campaign designed to encourage others in your segment to embrace sustainability, taking a leading or fast-following position on communications can drive benefits for your brand and reputation. But take care: the media and consumers are quick to sniff out any “greenwashing,” so ensure your communications are accurate, authentic and sincere.
Don’t go it alone
For many brands, tackling energy and sustainability communications in addition to their day-to-day work is a daunting task. And the potential downside of getting it wrong is often too large for a brand to take the risk. Whether you lack expertise or bandwidth, getting the support of a communications advisor, like Schneider Electric, can give you the tools you need to get the greatest value out of your sustainability communications plan, while ensuring that your brand is protected.
The race to energy efficient and sustainable solutions is heating up – and 2020 will certainly be a watershed year. Positioning your company to take advantage of its energy and sustainability gains is a great place to begin. Contact us today to learn more about our communications consulting services.