Managing Reputation in a Sustainable World
Take a booming world population, impending climate change, growing inequality and pollution, and declining resources. Add to this mix the consumers’ willingness to pay more for sustainable brands, alongside their expectation to buy more sustainable products in the future.
Complement the picture with the hard fact that more than 80% of mainstream investors now consider ‘ESG’ – environmental, social and governance – information when making investment decisions, and that ethical drivers such as integrity, dependability, and purpose, are three times more important to company trust than competence.
What you’ll find is a clear business case for sustainability. Today, for organizations that seek a positive reputation and long-term success, there’s absolutely no escape from developing a sustainable business strategy; and for reputation managers there’s absolutely no escape from doing it right.
Reputation is very much based on the ability (and willingness) to meet stakeholders’ expectations and finally build or maintain trust. And today’s expectations are for organizations to “do the right thing”, no doubt about it. More and more, the civil society, NGOs, and Governmental bodies (through new regulations) demand companies to act responsibly.
So how can reputation managers navigate the ever evolving sustainability landscape?
Be the “ears” of your organization
When developing a sustainability program, doing a materiality assessment is the first step. This is best performed by including both internal and external stakeholders, which means carefully listening to all the involved players, understanding what their concerns are, and most of all, what they expect from you as an organization.
As a PR or communications practitioner, you are in the best position to do this and help the C-suite in their sustainability endeavor. Be ready to listen, monitor, and positively engage with your stakeholders. Meet their expectations and help anticipate change by being the “ears” of your organisation, as much as you are its “voice”.
Embrace radical transparency and accountability
Also, remember that sustainability is a journey. There’s nothing wrong with starting small. Acknowledging that you have still a long way to go does no harm to your reputation, as long as you keep transparently communicating shortcomings and challenges alongside progress and success stories to your public.
Be accountable for whatever you commit to publicly. Today, technology not only provides unprecedented opportunities and tools to measure sustainability; it also allows people around the world to instantly share any good or bad deed via a mobile or smart device. A commitment to true sustainability is therefore a commitment to radical transparency.
Stay away from greenwashing
Because of the many unfortunate greenwashing episodes we all witnessed during the past years, consider that the public might start with some skepticism toward your sustainability program. Any excessive, overt promotion of sustainability deeds could easily lead the public to conclude that your motives aren’t genuine, thus erasing all intended goodwill.
Communicating your organization’s purpose, sharing your sustainability progress transparently, and truly engaging in a two-way communication with your stakeholders will be key to strengthening the reputation of your company in a world that is finally putting sustainability at center stage.