Back 05.04.2023

Driving sustainability – how to credibly market and communicate about it?

The green transition and the business potential to making it happen have been hot topics lately, and the message is loud and clear: this is an opportunity not to be missed. A company aiming to be onboard of the green growth must promote sustainability across all functions, including marketing and communications.

Marketing and communications have a big role to play as sustainability drivers, but the bar is rising: it’s harder and harder to differentiate as everyone is talking about sustainability, people are more aware of green washing than ever before and regulations are becoming more stringent. One such regulation is the new EU green claim law around the corner, which aims to tackle false environmental claims. How to credibly market and communicate about how your company is contributing to sustainability?

Bringing sustainability to the core of strategy

Like with any marketing, the sustainability positioning and messaging should be based on and aligned with your company’s purpose and strategy. Although it seems (and is) self-evident, this can’t be left unmentioned. This calls for a thorough understanding of the company’s business and the degree to which sustainability is integrated into the business strategy and ways of working, such as:  

  • Is the current target merely to be compliant, or is sustainability at the core of the value creation?
  • Is there a holistic view on sustainability, or certain focus areas?
  • What is the impact the company can make?
  • Is sustainability a means for differentiation?

Making sustainability the core of business strategy forms a solid foundation for marketing strategy and communicating sustainability.  Left outside of the overall strategy makes talking about sustainability artificial.

Focusing on creating value to customers – from footprint to handprint

Another cornerstone in building credible marketing strategy, focused on sustainability, and thinking of the key themes and messages, is going back to customers: what are their sustainability targets? What kind of challenges do they have with their environmental impact? How do your company’s products and services solve those?

This leads to an essential change of perspective: rather than looking at your company’s own sustainability initiatives and carbon footprint, the focus shifts from those to its carbon handprint: how to reduce customers’ emissions. Carbon handprint describes a product or service’s positive environmental influence throughout its lifecycle, specifically how it helps customers reduce their carbon footprint. The key for companies to seize growth opportunities in the green transition is to maximise their handprint. The bigger the better.

As in any content and messaging, for customers it’s more relevant and interesting to understand what kind of value they get from their partners and suppliers rather than those companies talking about themselves. Traditionally this value has been saved costs or generated new revenue, but it’s increasingly important to showcase and communicate how the customer’s emissions and other negative environmental impacts are avoided.

Understanding the impact and backing it up with facts

The other main ingredients in credible marketing and communications of sustainability are honesty and transparency. Honesty comes down to knowing and understanding the company’s impact and particularly it’s scale. Despite of good intensions, one of the most common reasons of greenwashing is the scale, or bias in it: bragging about a sustainability act, that has a modest (or even negligible) actual impact in relation, for example, to the company’s own footprint or total impact. Every step in a sustainability journey counts, but if communicated in a dubious manner, those can give a false impression of company’s actual impact and effectiveness of the actions and scale of those. This calls for being true to oneself.

Lack of transparency is another common pitfall. The narrative on your company’s impact and sustainability actions needs to be backed up with scientific evidence, facts, and proof-points. This will not only be a practice for building credibility, but also required by the EU’s proposed new law on green claims. The new law will significantly affect how environmental claims should be based on facts and how the claims are presented. There are variety of established standards and metrics for measuring and quantifying environmental impact – and if calculated correctly, also to communicate those. In addition to employing those, marketing and communications should be aware what’s behind the numbers: what’s included in the calculations, what is left out? Do those support the claims, and do they fit what’s being said?

Silence is not an option – it’s time to be boldly creative

With all mentioned above, it makes sense that one could be tempted to think “should we just keep quiet then?” Short answer: no. Marketing and communications can be a major driving force for company’s sustainability efforts – to create change, one must communicate it. The platforms and channels available to marketing and communications can be used to promote the change. The most advanced and ambitious companies are aiming to influence not only their customers but also to bring about systemic change.  

Once again, this calls for understanding the scale of needed change, and the impact the company can make, and shifting the focus from company’s own footprint to its handprint. Communicating all of this calls for both creativity and boldness, and not settling for mediocre. There won’t be any impact made or change created with something that doesn’t grab attention or spark any emotions or thoughts – or with silence.

Sustainability communication as a susformation driver |

Strategy and Management Consulting, Business Development, Strategic Marketing, Commercialization and Product Launch