Keeping It Real: Why Greenwashing Isn't The Way To Go When It Comes To Your Business' ESG Strategy The issue of company policies within ESG comes when we don't own what we do, or don't offer transparency, or worse, not practicing what we preach at all.
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The spotlight on a company's environment, social and governance (ESG) goals burns brighter than ever, and it is only increasing, with brands and businesses held to account by consumers, media, and regulators. Nongovernmental organization (NGO) activism is also taking a stance across the globe on a multinational scale.
Tricky conglomerate issues aside- what does this mean for your startup or SME as we move into 2024? Granted, a lack of clarity and fundamentals can feel confusing amongst a shortfall of reporting standards and a flurry of buzzwords and perplexing terminology. Is there a difference between "net zero" and "carbon neutral"? Is this even relevant to your activities, and do your potential clients and partners even care?
Yes, they do care, and it's not something to be ignored, whatever the scope of your activities- environmental responsibility, transparency, and trust are vital parts of your internal and external communications strategies, irrespective of your turnover and reach.
The issue of company policies within ESG comes when we don't own what we do, or don't offer transparency, or worse, not practicing what we preach at all. Creating a facade of responsibility in the context of ESG is "greenwashing." Disclosure of information, or selective choosing of what to reveal, tokenism, fluffing terminology to where it suits, exaggerating activities, and data manipulation are just a couple of ways companies are trying to falsify their commitments to the cause. We live in a world where comparisons are difficult to draw on this subject. Companies can achieve the status of being a B Corporation, whilst still maintaining problematic practices, such as issues with labor and more. Is it, therefore, any wonder that we see companies utilizing their self-proclaimed ESG credentials for all intents and purposes as a greenwashed status?
Today, it's still down to the individual business to declare their own stance, with no official reporting standards required. We've evolved to the point where it makes commercial sense to declare a stance at least, with 60-80% of consumers claiming to prefer to buy from sustainable brands. Whilst the specific international survey results may vary here, the results are loud and clear. Investors are requesting clear and open planning from potential portfolio firms regarding their route to sustainability, and within clear timeframes. Governmental departments are leading the way, and regulatory solutions will soon become commonplace and mandatory.
So, how do you tell your brand's ESG story when the goalposts are changing, and the trending news cycle makes it tempting to piggyback something different every month? Engaging audiences in a noisy and saturated market is not easy. It's tempting to become the boldest or the loudest at least, but it's vital to match your storytelling with the truth. ESG narratives must match both ethical standards and the emotional pull. Greenwashing your corporate mission, vision, and values will inadvertently harm reputation, as well as credibility with clients and consumers and stakeholder relationships. The key for brand communications and public relations (PR) strategy in the ESG arena lies in clearly defining your motivators and abilities. This will look totally different for each business or brand, and it can range from diversity and inclusion to manufacturing capabilities and beyond.
The responsibility doesn't only lie with the brands themselves though- PR and marketing companies are also responsible for upholding standards here, and if they were engaged to work on an ESG narrative, they must also ensure the credibility of information shared, and shoulder the responsibility. Trust and transparency rule, and they make a huge difference to the bottom line, not just the awards mantelpiece. So, what does an accountable and sustainable future for ESG comms look like? Ethical guidelines, due diligence, and good faith are crucial in ESG comms at any level. Building authentic trust with your user base, employees, stakeholders, and the wider public will only enhance your reputation, while also showcasing a genuine commitment from you. There is absolutely zero benefits to be had from band wagoning, or from making bold claims that simply cannot be substantiated.
Recycling policies, the sustainable packaging supply chain, diversity and inclusion quotas or challenges, and the launch of an industry-first carbon monitoring software for the manufacturing industry - all of these are things that we at TishTash Communications have worked on for clients recently at our agency for the GCC market. The one thing they all have in common is truth and sincerity, with all actions backed by clear evidence. Accuracy and reliability are the crux of all PR activities and stakeholder communications. Greenwashing may not be deliberate, and "accidents" do happen, but these serve to underscore the importance of transparency in your PR activities. Your communications can aid in a shift in consumer and employee behavior, even in its most basic form. Championing the recycling of your e-comm packaging materials can also sit alongside the challenges of low-emission deliveries. We can't ignore the latter, but we can talk about it honestly.
Promoting sustainability to drive positive change is the key driver in most of our current communications. No bold claims or unachievable goals; instead, an honest conversation or showcase of what is being done, alongside a debate about what we can do more of, is a great start to your ESG comms strategy.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again- when it comes to ESG, the code of conduct for your business must be rooted in authenticity and transparency. Accountability must be always embraced, and it is no longer just a case of a "nice-to-do" or a media opportunity; it is key to the ethics of you and your business. Greenwashing isn't an option for 2024- don't make that mistake before you've started, as there is nowhere to hide, and staying relevant today needs to be coupled with a clear view of the future, and respecting all that comes with that.