Are your sustainability communications just a marketing gimmick?

The 4C 2021 supply chain and procurement survey told us that the main driver for business developing a sustainability approach is not a moral obligation to humankind, it is the need to maintain a strong public image, and if asked, most CEOs will have a position on their organisation’s sustainability credentials. Despite this PR need, 79% of procurement organisations said that they have a limited approach, at best, to sustainability and only 3% of organisations comprehensively measured their performance.

Let’s take a moment to analyse these perhaps unsurprising revelations

Sustainability is the process of understanding and minimising the negative environmental and social impacts of your business. This involves gathering data about your operations and supply chain, assessing your and your suppliers’ operations and working conditions, creating plans to improve sustainability, and reporting on the data gathered and actions taken.

This definition seems counter to the insight and statistics above, and worryingly, the need to say something about sustainability appears to have superseded the need to do something.

As the last century drew to a close it was starting to dawn on the world’s CEOs that the endless pursuit of profitability at the expense of the planet and its people was unsustainable.  Over the past 25 years, I have watched at close quarters the evolution of the “corporate and social responsibility” footnote in a few plc annual

But what has driven this?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the sudden discovery of a baby boomer moral compass in the twilight years of their careers, having successfully ascended to the top of the corporate ladder. No, it was the digital communication revolution created by GenX and embraced by Millennials. You are probably reading this on a handheld device with more communication technology than was used in 2 World Wars and the Space Race to the moon, all combined. If information is power, then power now rests in the hands of the people, not the CEOs. Bad news cannot be buried, and the narrative is uncontrollable. CEOs, big brands, and even world leaders are at the mercy of information transparency and public opinion. Everyone has an opinion, and now they have the ability to share it with everyone.

Getting your sustainability communication right is therefore extremely difficult. In the UK alone the primary consumer purchase priority in the past 5 years has endlessly shifted: ethical sourcing, product source traceability, employee conditions, animal welfare, deforestation, and now we have the cost-of-living crisis. Faced with a public that can’t make its mind up, what ESG strategy should you choose?

The simple answer is to choose the one that is right for you. Go back to basics and understand your own data and performance and create your own plan.

What could you do?

What should you do?

But most of all please take the time to understand, what can you do?

Create a plan that works for you. A plan that is holistic, considering people, planet, and profit, that is sustainable for the long-term. Then go out and communicate to the world with authenticity and genuine confidence?

If you need help understanding your performance and creating your sustainability plan, please contact Ed Court, Sustainability Manager, or  Allison Ford-Langstaff, Managing Partner at 4C Associates.

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