Don’t rush! It’s not sustainable

With so many businesses talking about sustainability, if you want to be heard your story must stand out. If it’s rushed you risk wasting all the time and effort spent and worse, investors and regulators could call you out.  

With all the noise around sustainability, there’s pressure on everyone to say something because they feel they should. But giving into this pressure comes with risks. As the noise grows, those risks get bigger and bigger. There are a few extremely simple (honestly) steps you can take to stay safe, but most won’t take them. Instead, they’ll give in to the pressure, which presents more opportunity for those who don’t.

Risk #1: waste

It’s basic mathematics.  Attention is limited. The noise is increasing. More businesses are talking about what they’re doing on sustainability, why it’s great, and what they’re going to do in the future. But, in the rush to say something, they’re all saying the same thing.

Banks are talking about ‘financing the transition’. Private equity is talking about ‘funding innovations of the future’. It all sounds the same. And when it sounds the same, no-one’s voice stands out. All the work and effort that gets invested gets wasted.

Risk #2: being wrong

When things are rushed, they aren’t considered. We’re already seeing some of the fallout from those who were too hasty in setting out their stall. Sarasin & Partners recently said they’re challenging the net zero commitments and plans of a number of the companies they invest in, because they haven’t disclosed the right information for investors.

Things will only get more complicated as legislation changes, investors get more sophisticated, and companies rush to catch up. The Green Claims Code was recently revamped by the Competition and Markets Authority, and climate risk disclosures just became mandatory for all UK businesses with turnovers of over £500m, or 500 employees, or a premium FTSE listing (so all of the FTSE 350).

So, what are these simple steps we mentioned?

  1. Be right
    Obvious, we know, but most never get passed this step because it takes time to be accurate and get the right expertise in place. And because so many just get to this step and then start talking, they all sound the same, which gives those that go beyond a lot more benefit.
  2. Find your voice
    Being technically correct typically means using technical language. Standing out reputationally means going the extra step to turn that language into communications that, well, stand out. Communications that fit the brand, culture and positioning. It’s a hard thing to get right. After all, many businesses in the same industry have similar business models and value chains, so what they are saying on sustainability is fairly similar. But even if they get to this point, there’s another step that can give even more return.
  3. Give your communications context
    People care more about themselves than others. But most sustainability communications are fully focused on the sender, rather than the receiver. A typical corporate’s approach to communicating sustainability involves some combination of targets, a materiality and risk assessment, performance data, some case studies and what they’re doing on governance. This content is all about what the sender is doing, not why any of it matters to the rest of us, not why we should care.

Who’s getting it right?

Look at Oatly’s sustainability work. This consumer brand has a voice and point of view that slap you around the face – and uses both to great effect. Reading Oatly’s words gives you the sense that this company cares about the big global issues and every person with whom it comes into contact.

Giving context to sustainability communications is a harder tool to use than brand because it takes time to explain. Two organisations that, while their brands perhaps aren’t as strong as Oatly’s, do context very well are Shopify and Stripe. Their approach of setting out why the sustainability work they do is the best thing their business can do, beyond broad platitudes and in more detail than most, makes the work they’ve done that much more meaningful.

Take the time to tell the right story

Good stories can get people to change. And we all know that change is what we need when it comes to sustainability. It takes courage not to rush in with everyone else to shout your story when you’re not ready. But that courage will be rewarded, not just because your story will be heard, but also because your story might just change things for the better.

If you’d like to know more about how Bladonmore could help you tell your sustainability story well, please get in touch.

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David Willans

Director, Sustainability

David is a sustainability specialist and advises our clients and the wider team on ESG positioning, responsible investment issues and any other sustainability topic.

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