GreenBiz’s chairman and cofounder, Joel Makower, published a recent blog post, The Incredible Shrinking World of Sustainability Communications, which speaks to the inability of leaders in the green-marketspace to capitalize on the “boom” in sustainability missions due to poor communications. Whether it be industry-specific terminology, broad generalizations, or the dreaded greenwashing affect companies touting green, or sustainability messaging are particularly susceptible to misrepresentation.
As a PR agency exclusively focused on representing green companies with sustainable missions, we see firsthand the detrimental effects of poor communication and misrepresentation. Since day one, we have tailored our approach to combat the downfalls Makower warns of and tell our clients’ stories in a manner that can be appreciated by all audiences.
Here are five tips for green companies to get their sustainability messages to stick:
- Avoid industry jargon. Every industry is cluttered with terminology specific to the topics and tasks of its professionals. Companies wishing to highlight their green and sustainable practices want their missions to be at the forefront of their messaging, especially at a time when there is a clear push for climate conscious practices. To achieve this, all communications must speak to a general audience, the goal being to inform and educate, so the public can understand the company’s accomplishments and goals. Messaging should be clear, concise, and specific–which brings us to our next point…
- Be specific–Overarching generalizations are meaningless. It is safe to say that many of us have encountered product messaging that reads, “Made responsibly,” or “sustainably grown,” or perhaps “climate friendly.” And being conditioned to want to do better by our world, we blindly accept these green-friendly platitudes. But we need to challenge companies to do better and respect those who take the time to explain how they are maintaining sustainable practices and why their products can be considered climate friendly, or green.
- Give context. One way companies can solidify their sustainability claims is by giving context to their promises. With the passing of the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, many companies have released plans for carbon neutral operations, or significant emission reductions. However, when presenting these plans to the public, it is common for companies to announce they will be cutting their emissions in half by 2030, or that they will enact 100% carbon offset by 2050. Without any context, these statements are insubstantial. But if the company includes what their current emissions are, how they intend to reduce them, and their goal reduction, they prove that their intentions are genuine, and by providing points of comparison that detail their progression, they are held accountable.
- Don’t fall into the greenwashing trap. Greenwashing is an easy trap to fall into in the current market. As we discussed, sustainability and climate friendly initiatives are being prioritized by world leaders, businesses, and organizations across the globe. For some, adding the stamp of sustainability or a recyclable symbol to the back of their products was an easy way to play into consumer values and increase sales. But as the number of players in the marketspace has increased, so has the scrutiny of these claims. Companies do not want to get caught overstating or embellishing their environmental impacts. The strategies mentioned above will inherently allow companies to avoid the downfall of greenwashing by ensuring that the messages they relate are backed by clear, specific, unarguable facts.
- Prioritize communications and company messaging. What all of this boils down to is effective communication. For a company to truly highlight its sustainability mission, it must make the communication surrounding the initiative a priority. If they are going through the effort to make their processes and/or products more sustainable, then it is important to showcase that effort, and be specific and deliberate about doing so.
Makower’s article calls to attention the widespread shortcomings of communications surrounding the sustainability marketspace. Let these tips be the first step in guiding you to tell your company’s story authentically, in a manner that will resonate with all audiences and successfully communicate your brand’s sustainability initiatives.