Making brands more sustainable

The modern employee expects more from their employer. They want to see evidence of progressive policies, and to work for a company that has a positive impact on the world. To attract the best people, a business needs to prioritise sustainability as an important aspect of its brand.

Many people – particularly those early on in their careers – expect more than a salary in exchange for their working week. Interviewees will tell you why they’re right for the job, but they will also want to know what you can do for them, and why they should work for a company such as yours. They will likely have done their homework on the brand, hoping to find evidence of progressive policies they can get behind rather than irresponsible behaviour or corporate scandals.

Today’s employees are more likely than ever to seek benefits such as flexible working, the chance to buy more time off or take a sabbatical, or to take time out to do charity work. They want a healthy work-life balance: opportunities to see the world and to enjoy their time on it. But they also want more from the time they do spend at work. Many expect companies to put their scale and resources to good use: not just minimising harm, but playing an active role in solving some of the social and environmental problems our society faces.

This is why finding, hiring and keeping hold of the best and brightest people is often cited as a critical incentive for building a more sustainable corporate brand. Younger people grew up witnessing rapid technological transformation and disruptive innovation. They see new business models and technologies changing the world; from the gig economy to Tesla’s massive new lithium-ion battery. They see a paradigm shift and want to be a part of it. Of course, not every company can be a Tesla. But there are many ways in which people can feel their role contributes to a brighter future. For instance, supply chain management can – and should – involve fair wages and human rights as much as cost, quality and just-in-time delivery. Companies need to constantly promote their efforts to become more sustainable: their successes and failures, the lessons learned for next time and how people can get involved.

Share your sustainability story
Getting your sustainability messages across both internally and externally will ensure employees hear them, and feel pride knowing others hear them too. A good sustainability report will probably contain these stories and provides a great central resource, but has a limited – if important – audience. To engage employees in your sustainability efforts, adapt the content from your report: in articles, case studies, videos and on social media.

Make sure the stories you tell are about real people: the customers, suppliers and communities who are better off thanks to your products, services or community involvement, and the employees who made it all happen. Attract prospective employees by promoting these stories on your recruitment website, and reinforce the message by including related sessions in your induction programme. Ask new and long-standing employees which stories make them feel proud to work for the company, and react accordingly.

Businesses have never been under greater scrutiny. They are expected to help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and lead the fight against climate change, even – in fact especially – when political leaders will not. They are expected to look beyond quarterly returns and create long-term value for society so that nine billion people can thrive in the future. This is not easy, and only progressive companies that show they’re up to the task will appeal to the talented people who can make it happen.

Five top tips

Provide purpose
Make sure every employee knows how their role does good

Get the message out
Adapt existing sustainability stories for different audiences and media

Add human interest
Tell stories about real people or, better yet, get them to tell them for you

Give people what they want
Ask which stories make them feel proud, and react accordingly

Share warts and all
What went wrong and what it taught you is often the most interesting tale

The Luminous View
A study by Cone Communications revealed that 93% of employees surveyed want to work for a company that cares about them as an individual; 51% won’t work for a company that doesn’t have strong social and environmental commitments; and 74% say their job is more fulfilling when they are given opportunities to make a positive impact at work. In short, we recognise the compelling business case for sustainability not only in improving corporate culture and increasing employee wellbeing, but also in creating better products and enhancing reputation. We have been working with UK-listed companies on their corporate and sustainability reporting for over 15 years and have learned that shareholders find good quality sustainability information incredibly beneficial. They base investment decisions on it, and other stakeholders, such as customers, employees, suppliers and governments, find that it engenders trust.

If you'd like to discuss how best to prioritise sustainability in your business, please get in touch.

This article originally appeared in 'Brand Matters'.

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Nada Zbirek

Nada works closely with Luminous' Board of Directors to define and deliver an effective marketing strategy, aligned to the agency's business objectives.

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