James Whittingham, Senior Sustainability Consultant at Luminous, looks at how companies can better communicate their sustainability story to more fully engage with their key stakeholders.
At Luminous, our stakeholder engagement team works with businesses to craft sustainability strategies and stories which engage stakeholders by informing them precisely how sustainability fits with the corporate mission and vision. An indirect benefit of this is that it strengthens the bond between a corporate’s internal departments, helping them to embrace an integrated approach to sustainability and enhancing the message delivered to employees, shareholders, customers and the communities in which the business operates.
There are several routes to improving the telling of your sustainability story, but here are our top five suggestions for enhancing the sustainability narrative within your reporting communications:
1. Set the tone from the top
Make a senior executive the primary sponsor of your sustainability programme and activity. To connect with employees and customers, create an introduction and welcome to the sustainability section of the annual report from a C-suite colleague – they can set the scene and announce the highlights and key progress made in the reporting period.
2. Demonstrate a clear governance structure for sustainability matters
Stakeholders need reassurance that there is a ‘golden thread’ connecting sustainability right throughout the business. Outline the governance of, and approach to, sustainability within your organisation. Include a simple organisational chart to show how the sustainability manager/team fits, and is connected with, a sustainability committee/working group and how this is linked to the Executive Team, as well as the primary C-suite sponsor.
3. Define your material impact areas
It’s essential to clearly communicate the most important, or material, sustainability issues, impacts and risks as well as the steps the business is taking to ameliorate and manage risk. An infographic or chart, known as a materiality matrix, is a good way to present the material issues. It gives stakeholders the full range of topics with an explanation as to why the business has chosen to focus on the top five or six, for example. This will form the focus of your strategy.
4. Be SMART and outline your objectives and targets
An organisation’s sustainability journey should start with a sustainability policy. The policy’s function is to set out the sustainability stall with signposts towards a strategy which provides the overall framework and direction of travel, all supported by objectives and targets. Make sure these are SMART: Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Realistic – Timebound. It takes time to research and set bold targets and a business needs to report not only the successes, but also the failures or disappointments – transparency builds trust, which is a valuable commodity.
5. Clearly communicate your achievements
Do not assume your audience will understand what it means for you to be included within a key investor-focused environmental, social and governance (ESG) index or an industry benchmarking scheme. Include the logos, set the scene and take the opportunity to make your audience aware of these achievements and performance results, and what that means for building a better business. Third-party endorsements, such as inclusion within indices or similar, provide objective assurance to stakeholders that your sustainability efforts are a sign of your business being on track towards being a good long-term investment.
If you would like help with creating and communicating your own sustainability programme and stories, please get in touch.