Sustainability is no longer just a compliance requirement. It’s a business opportunity, and some argue a business imperative, that can give companies a competitive edge by growing something that’s become increasingly important to consumers: brand trust.
According to the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report, brand trust tops the list of sustainability factors that influence purchasing decisions, with 62% of consumers saying it’s an important factor.
“This indicates an opportunity for consumer-goods’ brands that have already built a high level of trust with consumers to evaluate where best to introduce sustainable products into the market to drive growth,” says Carol Gstalder, senior vice president of Reputation & Public Relations Solutions at Nielsen. “On the flip side, large global consumer-goods’ brands that ignore sustainability increase reputational and business risk. This may give competitors of all sizes, the opportunity to build trust with the predominantly young, socially-conscious consumer looking for products that align with their values.”
New consumers are very active with technology and social media and have the ability to influence the wider audience, either positively or negatively. Reaching them is crucial, and some companies are struggling to adjust to the new reality. Building your brand’s reputation for sustainability will help you create sustained trust. Get started with the following five tactics:
1. Get buy-in from top leadership
Getting buy-in from CEOs and other executives will give your sustainability initiatives credibility inside and outside company walls. But to win their support, you must connect sustainability with demonstrable business value.
Think holistically about how sustainability supports your company by evaluating three fundamental questions:
- How can sustainability investments PROTECT your company through reduced risk and avoided costs?
- How can sustainability investments STRENGTHEN your company by saving cash and driving operational efficiencies?
- How can sustainability investments ADVANCE your company by growing revenue and making your company more competitive?
Start by identifying both short- and long-term environmental and cost saving opportunities and priorities, such as reducing water and energy consumption, going paperless or new technologies. Such initiatives not only have immediate business returns, but also quickly engage your employees and begin to build important cultural benefits within your organization. Use this momentum to better understand and prioritize risks and opportunities, which can serve as an important foundation for creating a detailed sustainability strategy outlining your goals and the potential ROI for each initiative for leadership.
If you don’t have the in-house resources or expertise, enlist the help of a sustainability consultant. Sustainability consultants offer broad-based knowledge and expertise, as well as an objective third-party viewpoint that can uncover potentially overlooked opportunities.
2. Make sustainability an integral part of your overall business strategy
Integrating sustainability into your overall business strategy will not only allow you to drive business value, but also position your company as one that’s committed to making a difference.
Map the opportunities, priorities and desired goals you’ve outlined in your sustainability strategy to your company’s overall business objectives. A key element of this is to consider a Materiality Assessment to determine which sustainability aspects are most important to your specific business and key stakeholders. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) as worked diligently to evaluate the most material aspects for over 80 industries. SASB Advisory Partners are a great place to start for gaining insights and leveraging SASB standards and tools.
3. Build a culture of sustainability inside your organization
Your employees are one of your greatest assets for boosting your company’s reputation for sustainability. Today’s workforce is becoming increasingly environmentally conscious and concerned about making the world a better place. Our latest research revealed that 50% of tech company employees care about a company’s water and energy conservation efforts, access to recycling, and whether a company takes its impact on the environment seriously.
Building a culture of sustainability within your company shows employees that sustainability is a core company value—and that they’re a part of it. Consider some of the following tactics to engage your employees in the process and inspire them to tout initiatives outside of work:
- Encourage employees to share their own ideas by including them in the development of new initiatives.
- Create opportunities for employees to make a difference through company-sponsored community cleanup events.
- Offer incentives or bonuses for carpooling or moving closer to campus.
4. Track and measure your progress
Without solid data, you can’t be sure you’re actually meeting sustainability and business goals—nor can you effectively promote your initiatives and grow your brand’s reputation for sustainability. Stakeholders expect more than anecdotal storytelling and want hard data that demonstrates your commitments and actions are meaningful. Collecting data also becomes invaluable in demonstrating the continued business case for maintaining your sustainability strategy.
As part of your overall strategy, outline how you will track and measure the implementation and outcomesof your sustainability initiatives. When you do this, take transparency and disclosure expectations into consideration, too. From actual cost savings and reductions in energy usage to employee engagement and productivity, there are a number of ways to collect the data you need to refine your initiatives, ensure compliance, and showcase the positive social and environmental impact you’re making.
5. Tell your story
One of the best ways to grow your company’s reputation for sustainability is to create a personal and compelling narrative that showcases your commitment and effort to making a difference.
Begin by integrating and promoting your story across all your company’s marketing channels. (e.g. your website, company mission statement and handbook, print literature, social media, etc.) In addition, reach out to warm media contacts, and prospective or current clients, to share new initiatives you’re starting or awesome results you’ve achieved. Be strategic with your story telling giving consideration to your target audiences. For example, an effective way to reach investors is to post specific sustainability details within your investor relations page of your website. An intuitive, but often underappreciated and underutilized approach.
How are other companies building a solid reputation for sustainability? Discover how four tech companies are making a name for themselves with sustainability initiatives.
For more information on building your brand’s reputation for sustainability, get in touch with Antea Group.