By Ophelia Jeffrey, Senior Account Executive
A collective ambition for a more purpose-driven approach to business has propelled environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues up the agenda. To the extent that businesses hoping to remain competitive must now adopt a strong position on these issues or risk being labelled a laggard.
And whilst a company might be making sincere efforts to factor good ESG practices into its wider business strategy, navigating the most effective way to communicate this undertaking without selling it short – or overstating its impact – is a very real challenge. There are reputational risks associated with doing both too much and too little, which can feel something like being stuck between a rock and a hard place – but with an effective communications plan, it’s possible to strike the right balance.
The term ‘ESG’ has rightly attracted its fair share of sceptics – any term that’s associated with such hype requires sufficient scrutiny – but at Aspectus, we believe that whilst it’s likely to evolve considerably in the coming years, ESG is more than a passing fad.
It follows then that businesses should be looking to incorporate strong ESG practices into their core strategies before they’re forced to – either by the demands of a regulator, or the ever-rising expectations of their own customer base.
So, to help businesses as they consider how to effectively communicate their ESG strategies, or begin to devise one from scratch, we’ve pulled together five top tips for best practice:
It’s essential to avoid either under or over claiming the impact of your work – as mentioned, both could do serious reputational damage. Under communicate and you risk alienating stakeholders, but over communicate and you could open yourself up to serious greenwashing allegations. Instead, be sure to contextualise any achievements within the business’ broader journey towards further progress, which will demonstrate both the business’ ambition and credibility.
The best way to show stakeholders that your ESG claims are legitimate is to show them the evidence. That means setting targets that are clear and measurable in the first place and then centring your communications strategy around those proof points. If data isn’t available, then being as detailed as you can about your methodology is essential.
Stick to your promises
Establishing accountability is one of, if not the most, important factor when it comes to devising a credible ESG comms plan. Issuing plans early and publicly will make the achievements all the more impressive, demonstrating both forethought and follow-through.
Regularly review your messaging
Done right, ESG should be incorporated into a business’ core strategy, operations, and values not tacked on as an afterthought. As such, from a communications perspective it’s important to revisit the company’s messaging when devising an ESG strategy. Whether an ESG commitment alters your company’s mission statement or enhances it, it’s essential that it’s reflected within the overall messaging at every level.
Consider a dedicated ESG report
Increasingly, an annual ESG report has become a popular way to evidence the impact of a strategy and it has the advantage of helpfully mirroring an annual financial report, which visually elevates ESG on to an equal footing with more traditional measures of corporate performance. However, considering the importance of creating continuity as mentioned in the tip above. So it’s important that ESG still appears core to the business at an everyday operational level and not simply an annual status check that ticks a box.
An effective ESG communications strategy can seem like a delicate balancing act but living up to these new expectations in business stands to benefit both planet and profit.
If you’d like to dig deeper into our recommendations for best practices when it comes to ESG communications, we’ve recently published a whitepaper drawing from expertise across our five sectors, which is available to download here.