The bulk of companies that invest in sustainability communications are unable to drive revenue growth or reap any business benefits from their efforts because they fail to integrate them into the corporate brand, according to a report from independent analyst firm Verdantix.
Rethinking Sustainability: Brand Risks and Opportunities is based on an analysis of how 80 firms link sustainability with corporate branding. Verdantix identifies five communications strategies companies typically take: purists, explorers, advocates, reactionists and nothingists.
The majority of firms are categorized as advocates, a strategy where companies actively communicate on sustainability issues, but keep these separate from the corporate brand and push them out to a limited audience. Advocates target their communications to employees and sustainability opinion leaders and use the company’s sustainability report as a central tool.
Despite pressure to do more, Verdantix found spending for sustainability communications is typically flat.
The number of companies managing and reporting performance on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is on the rise, more than doubling from 2010 to 2011, according to an analysis by Governance & Accountability Institute.
However, companies are often stuck on using traditional CSR communication strategies focused on reports, ratings and not-for-profits, Verdantix says. Chief marketing officers can add strategic value by integrating the company’s sustainability ethic and messages into the corporate brand, an approach that will lead to revenue growth.
CMOs need to take charge of sustainability communications in order to reap brand benefits. Once CMOs assess their current sustainability communications strategy and determine what their company spends in this area, they should benchmark their approach versus industry leaders, Verdantix says.
The firm also says CMOs should collaborate closely with management responsible for sustainability within the company to devise a strategic approach and then craft future-looking messaging to avoid greenwash accusations.