ECM Feb_Layout 1 30/01/2013 17:21 Page 50 50 Columnist: Toby Webb Ethical Corporation • February 2013 JHORROCKS/ISTOCKPHOTO.COM Communications How to shout about sustainability effectively While there are lots of ways to communicate badly, what are the good things companies can do to stand out? Toby Webb has some suggestions here are a number of communi- 5. They use social media to T cations techniques that corporate leaders in sustainability and corpo- communicate on sustainability, either via a corporate account or by rate responsibility communication specific accounts. Many companies use, to various degrees. Here are 15. are nervous about doing this. Social Volume on its own doesn’t work 1. They have clear websites navi- media is risky. But if you have some- gating readers to clear targets. thing authentic to say, you should how you get there. Websites change and, if not planned, say it. That doesn’t mean you have 11. They don’t forget to link can sprawl needlessly. Many compa- to issue a press release and crow sustainability with both social nies neglect old pages, which about running your business well. issues and governance, global and continue to turn up on Google Tone is everything, as is personality. local. For many companies in the US, years later. These can offer a very 6. They publish regular perform- sustainability is all about green. Tell misleading impression of where the ance data and updates. Publishing that to a Canadian mining company company is headed. In the world of annual data seems quite behind the or European retailer. Social issues, Twitter and Facebook, everything times now. What’s wrong with and how you engage with them, are can unfortunately mean something. quarterly? the number one issue in the rest of 2. They demonstrate both an 7. They offer news feeds on If you have the world, so no credible company understanding of the global chal- progress. This is a very simple thing something can pretend they don’t exist. lenges, and their role in the world. to do. It’s simple to drip-feed progress authentic 12. They host public debates Getting this right does not simply reports via short news items on your which are streamed online and do involve quoting WWF on the site. It looks good to stakeholders. to say, you not always have themselves at the number of planets we will soon 8. They showcase critical stake- should say it centre. There are not many examples need. Showing understanding is holder voices and suggestions for of companies doing this well. about demonstrating much deeper improvement. This is vitally impor- Unilever is probably the best known. knowledge and acknowledging the tant, yet few companies do it this 13. They seek crowd-sourced “megaforces” driving sustainability well. Patagonia is the best-known solutions and encourage and fund concerns, and showing how the example. Wal-Mart tries too. Perhaps innovation. Marks & Spencer is a company is starting to try to tackle Waitrose would have spotted the good example of how to do this, as is them, and contribute to wider looming disaster of its Shell retail Coca-Cola Enterprises and PepsiCo. solutions. partnership if it had taken this idea But B2B companies can do this too. 3. They use their reporting as on board via the web. Interface and Desso are well-known the basis for communications 9. They partner with credible examples. campaigns, not as the campaign academic institutions and NGOs. 14. They are clear about sustain- itself. Short, targeted messaging to Science matters. Whether it’s ability as a business opportunity. key, focused stakeholder groups, on technical research to improve They recognise that stakeholder top of a main website and regular performance, lower impact and engagement is about listening and reporting. The report is just a drive efficiency, environmental encouraging intra-preneurs, as library. Authentic stories from the data, or social science research, much as it is about responding to report are what will improve your outside parties with good reputa- external trends and pressures. reputation with employees, tions can really help with both 15. They are clear about their customers and wider stakeholders. strategy and a reputation for corporate power and influence and 4. They are not afraid of honest authentic communications. have a public debate about how debate about challenges, progress, 10. They talk about how sustain- that power and influence are used, missed targets, problems and solu- ability fits with business strategy – and report on progress, positive tions, online and face-to-face. They and how that will improve. This is and negative. I value being challenged and seek to hard to get right. What is strategy use the opportunity to innovate anyway? Most companies seem to Toby Webb is founder of Ethical Corporation and and improve, rather than becoming confuse it with tactics. Put simply, COLUMNIST: Stakeholder Intelligence. He blogs daily at defensive. strategy is the destination; tactics is TOBY WEBB tobywebb.blogspot.co.uk.