Sustainability Communication - Green Marketing or Greenwashing?

Sustainability communication as an indispensable tool to strengthen the corporate vision

sustainability communication

Author: Sydney

Sustainability is proven to be a significant factor in corporate success. However, pure marketing phrases are no longer sufficient for successful communication. Transparency and active action are required, because ultimately it is about the future of our society and the environment. It is not uncommon for the actions of companies to collide with social values ​​or ecological concerns. The essential key to avoiding such a breach of trust, for example through greenwashing, is a clear and firmly anchored vision purpose.

Sustainability communication has improved in recent years, but is still a long way from where it needs to be. Often there is a lack of strategic rigor and creativity, which requires good communication. Too often, empty words and clichés are poorly copied. A sustainable business model helps to strengthen the brand, upgrades products and reduces immaterial risks. So it's a win-win proposition. But why is sustainable communication still so difficult?

What is sustainability communication?

Sustainability communication is the conscious integration of sustainability into the communication strategy with the purpose of providing information about a company's sustainability goals and measures. This can be aimed at both external and internal stakeholders, such as investors, employees and customers. Sustainable communication is the truthful and authentic disclosure of the sustainability strategy. It is therefore much more than just a marketing tool and requires clear anchoring in the business culture.

Sustainability communication social media

What are the challenges in sustainable communication?

Technological advances, and social media in particular, make it possible to access an infinite amount of information. At the same time, the term "sustainability" is subject to a highly inflationary use. This unsettles consumers and the disclosure of Green washing cases ultimately leads to a radical lack of trust. In addition, for many, financial success and sustainable management are contradictory, although success forms the basis for a real impact.

Sustainability is also related to a complex issue: climate change. The effects of climate change are not tangible for many people and scientifically based statements about it 1,5 degree target and Decarbonization seem rather abstract. Clarification and honesty are therefore required, i.e. clearly communicated values ​​that consumers can identify with. It's worth it, because good sustainability communication has many long-term benefits.

5 advantages of sustainability communication:

    1. Build trust and credibility
    2. Strengthen customer relationships
    3. Create differentiator
    4. strengthening the brand
    5. make a social contribution

Sustainable communication: SDGs vs. ESGs

In principle, sustainability communication addresses all interest groups. Many companies use the in the context of communication SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) of the UN or ESG criteria (Environmental, Social, and Governance) of the financial market. What is the difference?

The SDGs are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and provide good guidance to identify impact areas. They serve to ensure sustainable development worldwide on an economic, social and ecological level. They include, for example, combating poverty worldwide, measures to combat climate change, but also strengthening our education system. So here goes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which is aimed at internal and external groups such as employees and customers.

The ESGs, on the other hand, are guidelines derived from the finance originate and are intended primarily to appeal to groups of investors. They contain measurable and thus quantitative factors relating to the environment, social issues and corporate governance and represent a voluntary contribution for companies to sustainable economic development. In-house finance teams are responsible for reporting and they are a somewhat uncommon term for society. The ESGs are often criticized because there are no clear exclusion criteria for the evaluation. For example, companies that trade in oil or weapons can receive a very good ESG rating.

Good sustainability communication is based on:

For many companies, it is currently a matter of setting realistic and concrete sustainability goals and implementing them vigorously. This also includes improvements and the promotion of innovation and technology. Here are the 7 best tips for good, sustainable communication.

  1. The Why: Who Simon Sinek it says everything starts with the "why", not with the "what", i.e. communicating individual values ​​and understanding where the impact is
  2. Authentic: Honesty comes first, communicating challenges and mistakes builds trust
  3. Experiential storytelling: Telling the story in a simple language and making it tangible through resonant channels
  4. Communicate SMART: Future-oriented, measure and define specific actions instead of generic phrases
  5. Forget the S word: The more "Sustainability" is said, the less true it is. Really sustainable brands hardly ever use the term, instead they communicate concrete topics
  6. Include community: Engaging diverse stakeholders, they offer diverse perspectives, expertise and reach
  7. Please no doomsday: Communicate positively and thus create motivation for real change

Examples of good sustainability communication - Actions speak louder than words

Many companies have already anchored a credible sustainable strategy. Above all, sustainable fashion companies offer customers the opportunity to track the entire production and supply chain through transparency. Patagonia, Asket, Elkline and Co show how it's done. The environmental impact and social background can also be understood in this way. Technological advances like blockchain etc. make it possible. Other companies like Pangaia prove that continuous commitment and investment in innovation makes sustainable business models scalable. Companies like Ecosia, Dr. Bronner's and Milkywire also highlight the impact of social responsibility and conservation.

Sustainability communication Generic examples

Example of too generic statements - Freepik

How do companies have to reposition themselves?

In the first step, all aspects in the company must be questioned. After all, sustainability communication and sustainable marketing do not mean presenting the sum of all activities in a good light. Rather, acting sustainably and pursuing an ethical-ecological strategy are key points in order to give the brand authenticity. Means: It is essential that the company vision includes the purpose (Deloitte). In doing so, sustainability must be measured and recorded, since the goal “Sustainable Future” is based on values ​​and intentions.

In the second step, all important stakeholders should be integrated into the corporate purpose (EY). "Companies that combine long-term corporate value with a genuine corporate purpose are in the best position to use, communicate and measure the value created." So it pays to involve stakeholders and customers in the development of the sustainability strategy involved, because this way the goals can be achieved together. This can be the biggest differentiator. After all, the word "communication" is Latin "communio", meaning that something is being created together.


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