Sustainability: matching words with action

By Pelican MD Michael Bennett

3 minute read

Key takeaways

  • 34% of consumers have stopped purchasing from certain brands due to ethical or sustainability related concerns
  • Businesses can no longer get away with greenwashing and piggybacking on the sustainability trend – it’s time to deliver real action
  • Delivering on sustainability goals allows businesses to reap plenty of benefits, including real environmental impact, reduced costs, consumer demand, improved brand image and reputation, engaged employees, and investor attraction

Research shows that consumer attitudes and behaviours towards sustainability are increasing, with consumers demanding companies take action and introduce sustainable business practices. Statistics suggest that 40% of consumers have specifically chosen to purchase from brands with environmentally sustainable practices or values, whilst 34% have actually stopped purchasing from certain brands due to ethical or sustainability-related concerns about them according to research by Deloitte.

While sustainability has become a hot topic across all industries, consumers are being scrupulous in holding businesses to account if they are seen to simply be greenwashing and piggybacking on the sustainability trend to appeal to their consumers.

It’s no longer enough to just tell consumers and other interested parties about a business’s sustainability efforts. Businesses must actually deliver on their promises. It’s time to match words with real action.

What is a sustainability communications strategy?

A sustainability communications strategy is focused on communicating authentically a business’s goals, efforts and actions towards achieving sustainable measures. Any claims made as part of this should be backed up and in line with the Green Claims Code. Not only will this prevent businesses from being accused of greenwashing, but it also means they aren’t misleading consumers and breaking legislation.

Read more about why businesses must back up green claims here.

The best sustainability communications are honest and transparent throughout all stages of the process. From outlining the initial targets, the progress must also be regularly communicated. This may seem like an obvious thing to state, but research from IBM shows that while 86% of businesses have a sustainability strategy in place, only 35% have actually acted on that strategy.

There are several ways sustainability targets and progress can be communicated to interested parties. This might be via a CSR or ESG report or white paper which is housed on an organisation’s website and then shared via social media. Alternatively, it could be a multi-channel campaign incorporating a variety of tactics including PR, thought leadership, speaker slots or sponsorships at industry events, expert commentary, partnerships with other brands, or enlisting advertising in various locations.

By taking this approach to regularly communicating progress, not just accomplishments, businesses will increase credibility and trust with interested parties, whether it’s investors, employees, suppliers or consumers.

Why is it important to communicate sustainability commitments to interested parties?

Investors care about sustainability as a focus on ESG typically provides greater returns, as well as being a way for them to positively influence society and work towards a more sustainable future for everyone.

Employees are the very centre of a brand and are responsible for representing a brand’s image. Not having shared values could be disastrous for a business, costing them in productivity and staff turnover. In fact, nearly a quarter of employees claimed they would search for a new job if they felt their employer wasn’t taking environmental issues seriously. There is a strong link between sustainability measures and staff engagement and wellbeing, showing the importance of internal communications of sustainability measures and progress.

With companies across all sectors placing a greater focus on sustainability, it makes sound business sense to be working with like-minded suppliers, that also share similar goals and targets towards sustainability.

Lastly, it’s important that sustainability commitments are communicated to all consumers, not just customers. According to an independent study, 90% of consumers are aware of how vital it is that society becomes more energy-conscious, and that four out of five people are more likely to choose a brand with a positive approach to environmental sustainability.

The benefits of delivering sustainability goals, not just communicating them

There are also several key benefits for businesses that choose to match their words with action by delivering on their sustainability goals.

These include:

  • Real environmental impact. All progress towards sustainability and a more environmentally-friendly future is worthwhile, and it’s only by all businesses working together can we create true change.
  • Preparation for new legislation. As the government steps up its commitment to the environment, by taking action now, businesses can not only be prepared for any new legislation or regulation that is brought in, but actually be one step ahead of competitors
  • Reduced costs. This could be via operational efficiencies, such as swapping to a renewable energy source, using recycled and recyclable products, or reducing energy consumption
  • Improved brand image and reputation. Truly caring about the future of our world communicates a positive message to stakeholders, including potential customers who become loyal customers and then brand advocates.
  • Investor attraction. Investors are increasingly looking towards businesses that demonstrate ESG as they are considered more stable and profitable.
  • Engaged employees. In turn, this leads to increased productivity, resulting in higher profitability overall.

Pelican Communications is a specialist sustainability PR agency with expertise in food, packaging, waste, recycling, energy and trade associations. We provide a range of services including strategy, design, content creation, public relations, CSR reporting, video and animation production plus people development. Contact us for marketing and communications expertise.

Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash



COnsumer action on the environment