Creating more engaging sustainability programs for global companies
Despite the increased emergence of Sustainability practices in many global companies, resources dedicated to increasing employee awareness and building engagement with Sustainability messaging remain remarkably low. Complicating message development is the fact that many companies are currently defining their sustainability measures and programs as they are experiencing an increased need to promote them.
So what can be done to disseminate and activate the Sustainability philosophy more effectively across an organization with constrained resources? For the past three years, we’ve worked with a large consumer products organization to help create and manage a successful employee-driven Sustainability communications program. Here’s what we’ve learned.
1. You have to start small
There’s nothing worse than devoting time and resources to a program that is, ironically, unsustainable. We have found the greatest success with small, pilot regional programs, for they allow us to tweak and evolve our strategy and plans before deploying across the enterprise. Identifying key individuals in the organization who are responsible for activating the message in a limited number of markets allows companies to thoroughly build a network and implement communications structure protocols prior to a full-scale launch.
2. You should set benchmarks and regularly measure your effectiveness
In these days of data-driven marketing, all communications initiatives need to demonstrate ROI, and Sustainability comms are no different. The question is, what to measure? Certainly you’ve already established specific consumption and sourcing goals, but how can you measure communications that matter? The answer is to find measures that go beyond clicks and reach and actually monitor engagement and understanding by incorporating those measures into a regularly administered survey (the annual employee performance survey is a good example). This means creating questions that go beyond the typical recall questions; asking, for example, how familiar an associate is at explaining the specific message to a colleague or, better yet, to a friend or family member. Once you’ve established those measures, be sure to evaluate them regularly to determine how effective your program is and to convey its importance within the organization at large.
3. You need internal champions
Internal champions need to be at both the leadership and the field level. Sustainability is often part of another function, which means it can get lost in the priority of other organizational messages. Find an advocate who is truly passionate about Sustainability and who will help ensure it receives the attention it needs from the C-suite and above. Associates in the field are also good barometers for how well practices are being put in place, what messages should be escalated, how well your messaging is resonating with others, and how to better communicate overall. By ensuring you have active supporters from the top down and bottom up, you’re more likely to get more support and a broader view within the entire organization.
4. Effectiveness is dependent on “getting the wonk out”
You’re living and breathing Sustainability every day, which means you know the difference between a GHG and a GAP and can probably rattle off your opinion on carbon trade credits like the latest episode of the Real Housewives of Wealthlandia. That said, it’s important to remember that for most of your audience, your messaging needs to be concise and succinct and in everyday language that conveys why it’s important to your company, your communities and to your audience as individuals (senior leadership included). If you aren’t sure whether your messaging is too complicated for your audiences, find a communications partner to help you decide.
5. The most successful programs are regimented and allow for ongoing dialogue
Successful employee-driven comms programs require a cadence and allow for ongoing interaction between the field and those who are managing the programs. This means setting up regularly scheduled full team calls (we recommend quarterly), establishing personal relationships with your field team leaders, and putting a framework in place where ideas and events can be shared freely and easily. It can be as simple as building out an internal SharePoint site, creating an internal file-sharing platform dedicated solely to field sustainability events and communications, and organizing annual enterprise-wide Sustainability events and related communications. We’ve also had great success creating engaging materials that are distributed consistently and allow for in-market distribution across all corporate channels (social media, videos, etc.). And finally, it’s critical to allow for recognition of individuals who are activating your message at the field level. Ideally, the recognition is not only public but incorporated into annual performance reviews.
Sustainability is an evolving realm and will continue to increase in importance, due to its impact on the supply chain and its role in the attainment and retention of key talent. By keeping these insights in mind as you develop and evolve your own communications programs, you’ll be building a foundation not only for today but for expansion in the years ahead.