Striking the right tone when communicating about environmental, social and governance issues (ESG), and sustainability more widely, is one of the biggest challenges PR and communications professionals face right now.
Whether your business operates in the ESG space or you want to share what your business is doing to operate in a more sustainable and ethical manner, it’s important to have a robust and considered strategy to follow.
Your clients, stakeholders, employees and investors are alive to the dangers of greenwashing, with inaccurate or exaggerated communications posing a significant risk to reputation.
However, impactful ESG communications have the potential to support and encourage positive changes, taking your organisation forward, as well as enhancing a business’s reputation and allowing you to participate in important conversations.
In this toolkit we share a five-step guide to develop your strategy and communicate your company's ESG strategy impactfully.
1. Stick to your area of expertise
First and foremost, your ESG communications should stick to your business’s realm of expertise and the areas where you are taking action to improve your environmental and social impact.
Identify areas where you are pioneering within your industry, taking a new approach, or seeing positive results, and make these the focal points for your communications strategy.
In addition, ensure you incorporate the voices of ESG experts within your business, instead of just senior leaders, to give your communications authenticity and greater gravitas.
Share the evidence for how your products adhere to ESG principles, or how your business is operating in accordance with ESG best practices. Don’t be afraid of digging into the details as well as sharing high-level ESG initiatives. This helps demonstrate your expertise and position you as a leader that others in your industry can learn from.
2. Gather a wide range of input and feedback
ESG is a complex and wide-ranging topic, engendering passionate reactions from audiences.
When developing your ESG communications strategy, be sure to test your key messages and supporting evidence on a wide range of people, inside and outside your organisation.
Find out what kind of questions and reactions your communications provoke. Conduct research to make sure what you are saying is in line with best practice, and make sure you know how the views of others within your industry differ.
Incorporating thoughts and opinions from a range of stakeholders will help you communicate robustly, but also ensure you are prepared to be challenged and can back up your claims.
Communicating on ESG is an area that’s often precious to senior leaders (given the risks of doing it wrong), but it’s important it’s not a top-down exercise and that it undergoes rigorous testing.
3. Follow a consistent strategy
Once you have a tried and tested ESG communications strategy, which is rooted in your areas of expertise, make sure you stick to it.
Give yourself a specific, and limited, set of topics to communicate on and formulate robust messages and proof points to communicate. This will help you to build your authority in these areas and communicate with impact.
Trying to cover too many topics will mean you spread yourself thinly, making it difficult to have depth and authenticity in every area. This opens you up to accusations of greenwashing.
New topics should not be introduced into your strategy until you have strong proof points to back up how you have incorporated new ESG principles into your business practices.
4. Share hard facts and figures
One of the objectives of your ESG communications strategy should be to help your industry move forward in a more sustainable and ethical manner.
This will help your business make an impact in terms of the global movement to fight climate change and improve social equality, and will also help your positioning as a thought leader. Sharing evidence of following ESG best practices is therefore crucial to an impactful communications strategy.
Be bold with the insights and data you share as part of your ESG communications. The clearer and more detailed you can be, the more meaningful conversations you can have, with greater authority.
Be aware of where to draw the line in terms of compromising intellectual property, but push yourself and the business to be as transparent as possible.
And remember your employees can be your greatest advocates if you are open and honestly what the company is doing. And ask for their feedback and engagement in the process.
And remember, if you don’t have facts and figures to back up a message, then it shouldn’t feature within your strategy.
5. Embrace honesty
Finally, there will be areas in which your business is seeing great success in terms of ESG, but there will also be areas in which you could do better.
Being honest about where you need to do better is important, helping you to avoid greenwashing and encouraging conversations within your industry whereby you can learn from others and move forward as a unit.
Using your communications strategy as an opportunity to have a two-way conversation can be extremely beneficial for your business. For example, if you are speaking at an event about an area in which your business is following best practices and seeing good results, you can also ask others about the areas you are yet to address. Demonstrate that you understand it’s impossible to be doing everything right, but that you are keen to learn and continuously improve.
Honesty is always the best policy, and admitting areas of vulnerability, but indicating that you intend to address them, helps reduce reputation risk, and encourages others to be more honest as well.
By following this guide, you will be able to create a communications strategy that will help you to communicate on ESG with impact. Considering it’s such a hot topic within the financial services sector, you won’t find yourself strapped for opportunities to get your messages out there.
Events and conferences are a good place to start to test and refine the delivery of key messages and establish your business as an authority on key areas. From here, you can pitch your spokespeople as guests on podcasts, engage with journalists covering key topics, and enter awards to gain recognition for your ESG work.