As pressures from investors, consumers, customers and regulators mount, credible ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) reporting is an increasingly critical business priority for both B2C and B2B companies. New regulations, such as the proposed SEC climate-related disclosures rule and the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, will create standardized sustainability reporting requirements that will impact large companies around the globe and extend deep into their supply chains.
At the same time, growing greenwashing accusations and a lack of trust in companies’ sustainability commitments and messaging are putting ESG communications under attack. When done well, effectively communicating an organization’s ESG approach and initiatives can create a competitive advantage, help attract new talent and increase employee engagement and retention.
Communications professionals have a critical role to play in sharing their company’s ESG commitments and progress with key internal and external audiences. During a recent PRSA webinar on ESG Strategies for PR Pros, experts from IBM and Assent (a Padilla client) identified five best practices to help companies improve their ESG storytelling, regardless of where they are on their sustainability journey.
1. Set a solid foundation
There are many ESG topics to measure and report on, so it is important to prioritize where to start. Conducting a materiality assessment (and revisiting on an ongoing basis) helps companies determine areas of the business where they can have the most impact (positive or negative).
Be careful not to cherry-pick areas with good stories to tell – this can open the door to greenwashing accusations. In addition, prioritize areas that matter to key stakeholders, especially where improvements are needed.
2. Ground all ESG communications in credible, transparent data
Once priority areas are identified, leverage technology to streamline data gathering and reporting across direct operations, suppliers and the deep supply chain. Regardless of technology platform, look for a solution that will grow with an organization as the ESG program matures, helping gather important and verified data all in one place.
Be sure not to “oversell” a company’s ESG story. Communications must be transparent and grounded in credible data. Centralizing the data on one platform makes this easier.
3. Get strategic communications professionals involved early in the process
Early engagement is essential for communications advisors to effectively translate ESG data into stories that stakeholders will care about. Companies should include their communications teams in cross-functional ESG committees and ongoing meetings to empower them with a deep understanding of what their company is doing to support ESG efforts. This empowers communicators to determine the strategies and tactics that will resonate with target audiences, such as humanizing the ESG story or showing improvements over time.
4. Don’t overlook the value of internal communications
Companies need to first ensure their own organization understands their ESG approach and initiatives – and this extends beyond the C-suite – before they can effectively share their stories externally. Companies that engage their employees early may also develop potential “micro-influencers” that are more likely to help support messages externally across their own networks. Sharing how an ESG strategy is embedded within a company’s culture can also help attract and retain top talent – another key benefit.
5. Integrate ESG stories with other communications
Many companies make the mistake of treating ESG as separate from other corporate communications and miss the opportunity to connect ESG topics to their overall business strategy. This misstep reduces an organization’s ability to share their ESG approach in an authentic way. From new product announcements to panel discussions to social media posts, an ESG strategy should be incorporated across existing communications and channels to help build a continuous story – and credibility – for a company’s ESG approach.
With these best practices in mind, PR pros can better advise B2C and B2B companies on how to enhance ESG storytelling and increase the credibility and effectiveness of communications to cut through the noise and resonate with stakeholders.
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