This is the second in a three-part series on how companies communicate their stance on sustainability through different channels, and what effect that can have on their reputations and bottom lines.
Despite the emotional and political sensitivity of corporate environmental programs, many leaders overlook the risks associated with misalignment around sustainability actions and communications. As discussed in last week’s article, “How to align your message, avoid risk,” lack of alignment around sustainability can have material impacts on customer trust, brand equity, and your ability to get the most out of existing sustainability investments.
This article describes examples of business functions that often engage in sustainability messaging -- through traditional communications or actions -- and where internal alignment is especially critical:
Marketing and Sales
Gone are the days when companies could simply market their product as “green” and expect a conscientious shopper to trust that it was somehow better for the environment.
Despite mainstream awareness of “greenwashing,” we continue to see this risky behavior manifested as a result of uncoordinated actions across company departments. The last year has seen a slew of lawsuits over the credibility of questionable "green" claims: ConAgra, for instance, was sued for using the term “natural” on its GMO foods, and SC Johnson was challenged in court over its "Greenlist" logo.
Despite this, it is surprising how often (as consultants working with large companies on their sustainability programs) we come across rogue marketing departments, who are hard at work on “green” marketing, without full alignment and buy in from the sustainability team or department.
A technology firm, for instance, recently approached GreenOrder to develop a cohesive sustainability strategy that could serve as a revenue growth platform. Initial discussions uncovered that its marketing department had attached “green” labels to products without consulting those in procurement, product design, or strategy. Sales representatives were also surprised to learn that their products already had green attributes, and sought guidance on what to say to customers when pitching their products against the competition. The company is now pausing to align their sustainability actions and is working across functions to develop sustainability goals as they think about their next set of initiatives.
Your marketing and sales teams may be the most direct line to your customers, but internal alignment is critical to protect existing sustainability initiatives and develop growth opportunities from achievements in sustainability.
External messaging on sustainability from your CEO must be as deliberate and thoughtful as messaging from your marketing department. Your CEO is the public face of your company, and like any celebrity, people are watching, and scrutinizing, his or her every move. It is critical that CEO messages are backed up by strong actions.
Next page: Breaking down the matrix