Charles Dickens wrote in The Tale Of Two Cities, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It’s a sentence that could very easily be applied to the world of ESG. Every week there are stories of brilliantly wonderful and hugely impactful environmental and social initiatives that are, quite frankly, simply transforming lives in one way or another. And then there are those that see a raft of allegations of greenwashing, purpose-washing and misleading customers and investors – Deutsche Bank, KLM, Coca-Cola, Oatly and Shell are all recent examples of this, although Shell is no stranger to such allegations. Nor is Exxon. Actually, this could go on for some time.
These behemoths of their respective sectors are being caught out because their size sees them come under scrutiny for pretty much everything they say and do. The chances are your business isn’t one that employs thousands of people. You may only have a few hundred or even just a handful of staff, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the degree of scrutiny your customers put you under won’t be anywhere near as intense as it is for those large scale employees, and you’d be right… ish.
It’s unlikely that so much attention will be afforded to investigating each and every claim that you make in regard to your E&S governance actions, but that doesn’t mean your customers aren’t paying attention to what you say and do because they are. They’re just not saying anything, and if they have any doubt that you’re not being completely honest with them, they’ll be off. So how do you communicate the ways in which your business is curbing emissions and making a positive social impact?
Well, as a communications agency and someone who loves to talk this may sound a wee bit ironic, but the less you say, the more you are heard, and the focus of any comms is less on the fluffy feely stuff and more on the impact each initiative is having. Here’s an example. Suppose you have committed to gifting 1% of your business’ net income to ESG initiatives, and let’s say last quarter that amounted to a nice round number, like £5,000.
You decide to spread that £5,000 across multiple projects. £2,000 goes to a local homelessness charity; a thousand is used for a tree planting scheme; another thousand goes to a child literacy project; and the final £1,000 finds its way to a water poverty charity in Somalia. Sending out a news story detailing all the above is all very well, but it lacks any real punch.
Despite all of these things being extremely deserving and worthy causes. What you need to be doing is reporting on impact, what we call responsible reporting. Responsible reporting is something that will, in our view, become just as important as the financial reporting you’re already doing so now is a good time to get yourself familiar with this – and just give me buzz if you need a steer. In practice, what this means is qualifying all that you do. By gifting X, we have positively impacted Y. So let’s take the £2,000 to a homeless charity. As a trustee on the board of a homeless charity myself, I can tell you firsthand how massively important a deal this is. It could kit out the homes of four people who have been on the streets and moved into accommodation for the first time.
Or look at the £1000 that you gave to a child literacy project. Did you know that one in four children in the UK do not meet the standard for reading and writing by the age of 11? Yet, £30 gives one child reading support for an entire year. So that £1,000 that you gave last quarter will help more than 33 children to improve their literacy skills, which in turn can increase their future prospects and play a key role in helping to reduce unacceptable high rates of youth unemployment, which we currently have – and actually stands at almost half a million 16 to 24-year-olds.
So can you see the difference that quantifying your gifting can make? Saying you committed £1,000 to a child charity is all very well, but explaining how it can help 33 people is incredible. And this is how you need to think about your ESG comms. Ditch the hyperbole that serves no other purpose than to make you appear to be a business that’s desperate for attention and craves to be loved by all and sundry to the point of eyebrows being raised and questions of “are they real?” being asked.
Instead, back up everything with “we’ve done that, and this is what it means” statements and only then will your target audience believe you, respect and trust you, and be influenced enough to chuck your business’ name into the hat of contention when the next round of reviewing their existing partner or products and service providers of choice comes along. No business with genuine intentions should ever fear being accused of greenwashing. The simple act of demonstrating the value of each action you take and the impact it makes will shuffle any prospective doubters to the side and free up the path in front of you to steal a march on your competition. In the final video of the series will walk you through the ROI that you can derive from executing an effective ESG comms strategy.
In the meantime, thanks again for watching and if you do have any questions regarding anything that you’ve just heard, feel free to message me via the contact form on the Clearly website. They’ll come straight through to me.