Sustainability is key to smart business, now more than ever. When companies get it right, operating in a more sustainable way threads through every part of the business—and allows every stakeholder to play an active role in creating a better world.
As brands, we need to commit openly to this change. But it's also vital that we make our commitment to sustainability as accessible as possible. It's change to be proud of, and a commitment that must be shared. It pays to bring your customers, investors, and employees into your sustainability narrative. When the way you run your business, and your vision and values chime with those of your audience, you forge meaningful connections. And in turn, these connections become the building blocks of your brand identity, driving loyalty and advocacy among customers and investors—and your employees, too.
As a Carbon Champion, you're already taking steps to run your business in a sustainable way. You understand that change is a necessity, not an option.
Being a Champion comes with the responsibility to lead the way and inspire others by communicating your sustainability practices.
Consumers have trust in businesses that use their power for education. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that 85% of consumers want businesses to leverage their influence to raise awareness of sustainability issues.
Within companies, understanding sustainability issues is also critical for career trajectory. As The Financial Times recently outlined, employees who demonstrate a commitment to sustainability in their roles are able to differentiate themselves and advance in their careers.
Finally, investors are also looking at proof points within the businesses strategy, from corporate governance and marketing to internal communications and hiring, as a way to assess how the Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) agenda is helping society, employees, and the planet.
It's clear, when you demonstrate your sustainability values, everyone benefits.
Let's tell your sustainability story
It's no longer enough to just say a product or service is "sustainable". Instead, customers want to see how it shines through the brand's purpose. How it relates to being trustworthy. And action-driven. So how do you connect your sustainability efforts to your purpose, rather than just being known for selling ‘good’ products?
As organizations, we can use stories to bring other people into our own reality, in a direct and emotional sense. Great stories encourage us to be empathetic, and to care about something beyond ourselves. Through powerful stories, we can trigger customers, employees, and investors to feel an emotional connection with a brand or business.
The key to doing this successfully is transparency.
This means having an authentic and open conversation with your consumers, so they understand exactly who you are, where you've come from, and where you're going. This sense of transparency isn't just an add-on either. A global study by Accenture revealed that two-thirds of consumers make decisions about what to buy based on a company's transparency.
Find your story and share it
If you're a business with a strong sustainability story to tell, how do you make sure that you get your message across with impact? Here are four key principles to bear in mind as you build your story:
- Alignment: Creates consistency between your brand values and the values of your customers and investors.
- Connection: Develops an emotional and rational view of the journey ahead.
- Human context: Describes who you are, not just what you do.
- Commitment: Explains the journey to success and the proof points you’re committing to—holding you accountable and building a greater sense of trust.
How to craft a story that moves people
Once you have a sense of the story you want to tell, how do you make sure you bring people along with you? As you write, consider the following:
1. Write for your audience
Remember that you’re sharing a story that is by people, for people. Always keep your audience in mind—and put yourself in their place as you write. What motivates them? Why would they want to feel like they are a part of your sustainability agenda? And what might be stopping them from engaging with it?
2. Highlight your journey
Every good story has a sense of journey, and a strong narrative arc. This is where transparency and openness are so important. For your story to feel authentic, you need to talk about the choices you’ve had to make as a business.
This is powerful because it encourages empathy. Your audience will look at the decisions you've made through your journey and have a sense of what you stand for and what others can relate to.
3. Keep it real
The most powerful stories feel real. They talk about both the things you've failed at as well as your successes. Being open about these failures builds trust and authenticity. Everyone knows that ambitious sustainable goals are tough, and sometimes hard to meet. So, when we're honest about how we're doing, it’s relatable. No matter how big or small a business is, no one gets it right every time.
Greater transparency pays off in other ways, too. When both customers and employees feel that a brand is communicating openly internally and externally, they’re more forgiving of our mistakes generally. Research backs this up: Slack’s Future of Work study found that 80% of workers want to know more about how decisions are being made by their employers.
4. See your people as storytellers
Sustainability is human-to-human—and having clear ethics is a foundation of being more sustainable as a brand. It's why your people need to have a voice and a platform. They are the living, breathing embodiment of what you believe in.
Be brave, be transparent, and invest in your people, because they are your brand. Every day, they're on the ground delivering the experience and quality of product and service your customers expect, so trust them to tell your brand’s sustainability story for you. They should be your greatest advocates.
Be the guardians of your sustainability story
Remember, a story is a powerful thing. The best stories resonate with people, inspiring them to share. But it’s important to keep close control over what you communicate and when and how you deliver your message. Authenticity is key.
Ultimately, when we tell authentic, human stories, we build trust with customers, employees, and investors. Sustainability is a shared human objective and the brands that speak honestly about their goals and values give their customers and investors even more to love.
And once that happens, they'll choose you over everyone else.