Expectations for businesses are constantly changing. Consumers, employees and shareholders pay increasingly close attention to how an organization acts and if it is using its earnings to do more than turn a profit.
ESG is one way an organization can illustrate the responsibility of its operations. ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance. It began as a way for investors to assess whether or not to invest in companies that demonstrate responsible operations related to the following categories:
- Environment (e.g., water usage, carbon emissions, plastic waste)
- Social (e.g., treatment of employees, diversity, equity and inclusion, alignment to human rights issues)
- Governance (e.g., transparent reporting, ethical decision making)
The investment strategy is grounded in the idea that responsible businesses perform better financially, so it’s a win for investors, organizations and the world. The prevalence of ESG investing has grown dramatically in recent years. Today, there are more than $300 billion in assets under management in ESG funds.
More and more, companies are adopting ESG as a framework for explaining their corporate responsibility goals and progress. And while it’s one thing to decide to use this framework, it’s not always clear how to proceed. Where do you focus? How do you explain the value of operations centered around ESG to key stakeholders?
Below are three key strategies to create and deliver effective ESG communications:
Align with your organization’s purpose
A strong ESG strategy will have a clear objective and a focus that supports your organization’s purpose, mission and values. Developing a clear ESG communication strategy helps your stakeholders understand why your organization is investing in environmental, social and governance performance and what areas you’ll focus on advancing.
A few questions you may ask yourself as you get started:
- Why is it important for the organization to share its ESG story?
- How does ESG align with the organizational values
- What unique expertise or influence can the organization bring to make a positive impact related to environmental, social or governance factors?
- Who needs to know about your ESG strategy?
- What do you want key audiences to think, feel and do with the ESG information?
While many organizations feel a sense of urgency to adopt more responsible operations, it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. It can take time and resources (especially for larger organizations) to change their processes and partnerships.
However, some organizations may be impatient and want to demonstrate positive momentum by overstating their progress. In other cases, organizations may declare a focus on ESG without changing their practices. Both are examples of ‘greenwashing’ or presenting false information to make your business seem more environmentally responsible than it is.
Greenwashing has been uncovered in enough operations for the public to be skeptical of corporate responsibility claims. A few ways to increase authenticity in your ESG communications:
- Be honest. It’s okay to acknowledge that your organization is just beginning its ESG journey.
- Develop a regular reporting process. Use this reporting to share data and demonstrate progress on an annual basis. Annual ESG or corporate responsibility reports are a great way to tell a big-picture story about your ESG strategy and highlight success stories to key stakeholders.
- Pursue third-party validation. Currently, there is not a standard ESG-specific certification. However, many vetted ranking and rating agencies exist to validate an organization’s adherence to ESG factors. Partner with your corporate responsibility or sustainability team or organizations specializing in environmental and social impact measurement to apply to third-party ratings. Share this verification as part of your ESG story.
Make it personal
Data is important, but whether you are sharing your ESG story on social media, in an all-employee meeting, or at a conference, it needs to connect with people to capture attention. As a communicator, you can help your audiences care about your ESG strategy by helping them see the real-life impact of your work.
This could look like:
- Putting environmental savings into real-life terms (e.g., the amount of water we saved equaled the water use of X city)
- Explaining how a policy change will benefit all employees
- Sharing personal stories from an employee or community that benefited from your organization’s partnership
- Having your leader talk about their motivation behind advancing ESG factors in their own words
Using stories to advance the impact
ESG is a relatively new area of focus. Businesses and individuals are still trying to understand what it means and what it looks like in practice. Communicators play a key role in advancing an organization’s ESG strategies. With an effective and compelling ESG story, communicators can demonstrate progress and motivate key audiences to support an organization’s goals and positive impact on the world.