You do all the right things: establish goals and targets, publish an annual sustainability report, seek employee and public input -- and then repeat the cycle. Yet despite your efforts, those around you don’t seem to be moving fast enough to address the world’s environmental challenges, and you sense that real progress will require more involvement on the part of consumers, investors and government leaders.
What do you do? How will you make your company’s engagement efforts more effective, more efficient and more innovative? How can you help to mobilize the masses?
As a manager at SustainAbility and an expert in communications and strategy, I would argue that video can help engage employees and the public in your sustainability efforts and inject new life into the corporate accountability agenda.
Creating shared experiences
I recently interviewed Jim MacNeill as part of The Regeneration Project, a sustainable development initiative. MacNeill, who was lead author of the 1987 Brundtland Report, explained how a series of public hearings helped members of the Brundtland Commission reach a consensus despite their unique backgrounds and conflicting political beliefs. MacNeill said the hearings gave the commissioners a shared body of experiences that helped foster a sense of connection.
Nowadays, video can serve as an effective bonding tool. Many companies gather feedback using traditional methods such as online comment forms, emails or surveys. While these tactics do provide companies with a sense of what their employees and community want, they fail to create shared experiences between businesses and their stakeholders that can truly advance the sustainability agenda.
This is where video comes in. Through the power of film, shift workers could, for instance, bring executives onto factory floors or citizens could demonstrate how company operations affect their local communities. I believe this new perspective would enrich engagement efforts unlike anything we’ve seen to date.
Making ideas more accessible
Video can also ensure a company’s sustainability agenda reaches a wider audience . While watching a TED Talk by Paul Gilding, a sustainability activist, it occurred to me that video -- and the Internet -- has made Gilding’s ideas accessible to hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise would not have seen him speak.
Imagine if companies used this approach to make their conversations with employees, clients and investors more accessible to others? What if the perspectives shared during stakeholder meetings and roundtables were recorded and posted on the Internet for others to see and respond to? This would give companies the chance to engage with a far wider community than before.
Living in a YouTube era
Bringing stakeholders “virtually” into your boardroom or sharing candid dialogues may feel uncomfortable at first. But bear in mind that changes in the way people consume media are happening all around us, whether we are ready for it or not.
Put simply, we live in a YouTube era where online video has the power to create pop culture icons overnight, or draw widespread attention to corrupt corporate practices (see Greenpeace’s VW Dark Side and Nestle Kit Kat killer campaigns as examples). Given that video now plays an indelible part in the way people interact and gain information in everyday life, companies would be wise to embrace this new platform.
A handful of major companies like Ford, Intel and Starbucks have cottoned on to the power of video and now maintain thriving YouTube channels. And, slowly, we are starting to see companies use video expressly for the purposes of sustainability and corporate accountability. Virgin Media’s 2011 digital sustainability report, for example, featured light-hearted video clips of its staff and other stakeholders, while Royal Bank of Canada developed a series of short films as part of its Blue Water Project, a multiyear program to help foster water stewardship. Finally, Interface is working on I am Mission Zero, a project which -- through a collection of video interviews with the company’s factory workers -- is striving to reinforce and spread Interface’s culture of sustainability.
Still, video remains a largely underused tool. My sense is that many companies are still figuring out how to answer a few critical questions: What is appropriate -- and for that matter, legal -- to film? How do we maintain credibility and authenticity? How do we tolerate criticism from stakeholders whose views are different? How do we justify the time, effort and cost required? And most importantly, how do we produce video that is interesting enough for people to seek out and share?
As major companies find the answers to these questions, other businesses are sure to follow. Will yours?