Saving the planet is ‘a communications challenge’

By Claire Barraclough.

The global communications community has been issued with a call to action to pull the planet back from an irreversible tipping point in the next ten years. In his first Instagram post broadcast legend Sir David Attenborough described saving the planet as ‘a communications challenge’.

Sustainability is the only future for business and society. Employees want to work for and are engaged by sustainable brands, consumers are asking for it and investors are rewarding or punishing companies that deliver on it or don’t.

Sustainability communications has been on its own evolutionary journey – from siloed practice producing glossy materials to integrated and strategic communications. Communications is not only influencing but challenging businesses to measure real action and demonstrate impact. Impact on customers and communities as well as cut through in a crowded and noisy external news landscape.

Having worked across employee engagement, investor, corporate communications and sustainability I wanted to step in and respond to the challenge.

Here’s my 7 habits for sustainable communications

1: Where are you now? Data is critical to understanding where you are on the sustainability journey, how can it inform you about your business and customers. What are the gaps and opportunities?

2: Where do you want to get to and why? Corporate and communication goals should be aligned and rooted in the impact you want to achieve, for whom and by when.

3: Communicating progress– signing up to commitments is the easy part. As we come closer to the time horizons companies need to ensure they are showing and reporting on the progress towards the end goal (the Paris Agreement, or Net Zero, for example) and the milestones along the way. Communications plays a vital role in asking for the proofpoints and showing the action

4: Audience – many brands are looking at communicating with multi-stakeholders – employees, customers, investors, industry peers, policymakers and civil society across multiple markets. Campaigns can, of course speak to multiple audiences but it is important to prioritise and understand how to reach and be relevant to each segment in the best way.

5: Be vulnerable – sustainability is a journey – very few have this exactly right – success is going to rely on the ability to share ideas, listen and collaborate to progress.

6: Collaboration and partnerships– some of the best learnings I have seen in the private sector have come from new partnerships -seeing things through a different lens. This has resulted in for example, financial models being used to predict weather patterns to focus humanitarian aid ahead of time or listening to women in supply chains that go under the radar.

7: Be the translator–Be the storyteller – The best creative and engaging stories are rooted in understanding, data and purpose. They are human and emotional. It is a conversation, something to share and inspire. One of the biggest communication challenges is talking often complex technical terminology and translating it into something understandable and actionable

So, what’s your story? How are you responding to the call to action? I am curious to know how our industry is taking action and would like this to be a dialogue –What is working for you? What isn’t? Let’s make this the ‘Decade of Action’ for our community to drive the transformational change the planet needs.

Claire Barraclough is a Sustainability and Communications Director

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