Top tips for communicating sustainability

Much has been written and, it seems, much has been ignored in the area of sustainability communications. While it’s important to share your company’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility it’s equally important to know how to state your claims.

Here we share our top ten tips, developed and learned from our work at MCI Sustainability Services helping organisations to communicate about their sustainability programs. This list has been developed and refined over the years through trial, error and input from some clever individuals:)

 

  1. Inspire, don’t guilt. Sustainable development is about engaging and activating a wide audience. The goal is to inspire them with optimism to act innovatively, not guilt them into action.
  2. Tell stories. People connect with real life examples cleverly illustrated. Make your point by highlighting the people and the colourful tale told.
  3. Facts and faces. Data is best explained if it’s linked to a human face. Stories are more credible with data. But be honest, technically correct and state your sources.
  4. Put your claims in context. Vague claims are bad enough but claims without context can get you into trouble. 24 tons of waste recycled annually sounds impressive until it is ‘normalized’ by showing that it represents just 4% of total waste generated.
  5. Have big goals but not too many. Sharing your sustainability goals allows you to quickly communicate the style, substance and ambition of your CSR strategy. Don’t confuse your readers with too many or too complicated objectives. Be ambitious and brave.
  6. Welcome input and support. The key to good sustainability communications is humility. Acknowledge that you are not perfect, listen to your stakeholders and invite others to join you in your pursuit of sustainable practices.
  7. Promote your partners. No business is an island. By showcasing the involvement and support of your suppliers and stakeholders, you’ll earn goodwill and future commitments for support, all while establishing your role as a leader.
  8. Be Cool and sexy. Sustainability is about innovation and better business. Create the trend, stand out and be sexy with your communication.
  9. Exploit the influencers. Certain personalities in your organisation command respect and have a disproportional contact network and influence over your stakeholders. Recruit and use these individuals as your champions of change.
  10. Share your failures. In the world of sustainable business, a company gains credibility by being transparent enough to admit defeats. Build trust among your stakeholders by showing your disappointments and invite their ideas and best practices to help you succeed. Sustainability is a team sport and expert coaching often comes free.

Love to have your comments or thoughts on these 10 tips. Perhaps you agree, disagree or have other suggestions.

A bit about eco labels

 So many labels, so much confusion

It’s a jungle out there.  There are over 400 labels known worldwide. (For a review of each of these labels, see the Eco Label Index site) 

Many people comment that with so many labels, it’s hard to know what is ‘good’.  Yet, certifications can provide real value to meetings industry professionals seeking to improve business performance.

For Suppliers:   Eco Certifications provide practical guidance for integrating sustainability into their operations in a fundamental way. An investment in a certification system can save money while helping to earn credibility in the marketplace.  Labels should not, though, supplant constructive dialogue between buyers and suppliers.  If  sustainability goals are to be met, an ever increasing amount of collaboration and innovation will be required.

For planners:  Because most eco labels require a sustainability policy and documentation showing performance improvement over time, they provide planners some reassurance that leaders on site are at least somewhat engaged in the supporting of responsible business practices. Planners can reasonably ask for statistics and examples of actions. Certification, in this way, lowers risk for planners.

 

Certification Snapshot

Green Globe: Green Globe offers a good balance of environmentally sound practices with a focus on social responsibility criteria.  Event planners gain indication that the certified supplier has good systems in place for a responsible business.  Green Globe has different criteria for different kinds of businesses, including offices. That said, criteria for planner offices are not particularly agressive.  This label is a better indication for the level of leadership engagement in sustainability at hotels and conference venues.

Green Key: Originally designed to help leisure travelers better access environmentally responsible locations and activities, this certification is exclusively focused on ‘green’ aspects of business impacts and engagements.  The requirements of Green Key are such that it represents a good first point of entry for businesses seeking to get started with sustainable practices. While international, Green Key has been localized to only a few regions and is not widely recognized in Asia or Southern Europe.

BS8901 / ISO 20121/14001:  These are internationally recognized management standards that are regarded as being robust and holistic. Critics point out that, because the individual organization set the scope and level of improvement required, a business could technically meet certification with only nominal levels of real improvement.  Still, the requirement of solid, proven processes is a strong indicator of leadership engagement and commitment to sustainability.

Nordic Swan: The most rigorous standard for environmental sustainability, the Nordic Swan does not yet integrate requirement for social responsibility issues such as fair wages, diversity, or labour rights. It is a regional label, localized to Scandinavia and does not currently offer certification options for venues.  It is a strong indicator of good leadership and planners are encouraged to consider this when organizing events in Scandinavia.

EU Flower: Developed with good intentions, and requiring a good commitment to environmental sustainability, the EU Flower label is not widely recognized or understood by most in the meetings and events industry.  It lacks criteria for social responsibility and does not offer criteria for meeting venues.

Brief summary

  • Eco labels are valuable indicators of leadership engagement and well run businesses
  • Eco labels help businesses save money
  • Eco labels don’t replace the need for dialogue between planner and supplier
  • Seek out certified suppliers as a first choice to reduce risk to your business or event

Do you have experience with certification labels you can share?  Would you like to suggest changes to any of the above?  Let us know in the comments section.

Social Responsibility FAIL: can we do better?

Two international retailers, H&M and Wal-Mart, just got a pie in the face of their (stated?) strong Corporate Social Responsibility programs. Today’s news from the New York Times revealed that bags and bags and bags of unsold, post-holiday clothing stock was destroyed before being discarded, ostensibly to prevent it from being re-sold.  A saavy business maneuver or ‘ Social Responsibilty: FAIL’?

Items destroyed and discarded represent huge waste (cost) not only to staff time, landfill costs, etc, but to both brands, neither of which needs the outpouring of bashing which has been the result.  While costly in terms of wasted resources, this incident represents huge lost opportunity.  A well organized initiative to donate these items would have avoided cost and boosted consumer trust in each brand.

These incidents have special resonance for large meetings and events, as well as other businesses.  We seem geared to see disposal, rather than planned donation, as the preferred method to clear out exhibition halls, registration desks and store rooms.  What meeting planner would not feel remorse if journalists splashed their event on the front page for  insensitive, irresponsible waste practices?  Why wait for such embarrassment before taking action to integrate a plan to donation usable materials post event?

As part of planning their European Offshore Wind event in Stockholm last fall, EWEA partnered with Majblomman, a Swedish NGO supporting children, to  donate congress bags.  Similar efforts are being observed by other meeting planners and venues, so the idea is neither new or difficult to understand, just rare in its occurrence.

We’re better than this, people!

In addition to the previously mentioned (here, tooGMIC Trash Challenge, Please share your thoughts, examples and resources for expanding on the idea to donate usable resources.

Remember: Greenwashing is ’Sly’, not cool

In spite of a the litany of columns, reports and studies on the topic of Greenwashing, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwash), it seems that confusion ensues, resulting in more unsubstantiated claims which only serve to make the market more jaded and fussy with those that make them. I think the causes can often be traced to over-enthusiastic marketing teams who forget that what you do matters more than what you say. For these teams and others like them, I offer the following helpful memory device:

Responsible communication is Clive Owen. Children of Men, Clive Owen, especially. children-of-men-theo

Discounted by many, dogged and committed, often indelicate, the guy backs up his statements and pretty much single-handedly saves the world. No pretentiousness, just results. Action first, communication second. Have you seen this movie? You must.

Greenwashing, then, is Sylvester Stallone, let’s say in Rambo III. ramboiii

Bless him for his energy and creativity, there’s a lot more bluster than substance here. Overly produced and with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, his performance is wholly unbelievable. He phones it in. The result is a lot of irritation and an immediately forgettable product.

Both get attention, but which would you rather be? Cool and current and relevant and admired? Or somebody… well, somebody used as an unfavorable comparison?

Not that you’ll ever need more than this mental image, here’s some links to deeper research on the topic:

http://www.terrachoice.com/Home/Six%20Sins%20of%20Greenwashing

http://archive.greenpeace.org/comms/97/summit/greenwash.html

http://www.futerra.co.uk/downloads/Greenwash_Guide.pdf

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