7 easy steps for telling your sustainability story

What makes a sustainability story effective? I can tell you it’s not impressive shots of melting glaciers, or, on the other hand, depressing stats about them. What we’ve found to be crucial for an effective story is authenticity: staying true to who a brand is, what problems actually need to be solved and what actually motivates consumers.

Here’s how we’ve coached companies to tell an authentic — and effective — sustainability story:

1. Have one

Seems obvious, but it’s not. Here’s the line we hear all the time: "Actually, our company has been practicing sustainability since before anybody called it sustainability."

OK, that may be true, because contrary to popular belief, a lot of sustainability is simply good business sense. You don’t have to be a lefty to want to spend less on your energy bill or to make more efficient use of resources.

But be careful about hanging your hat on initiatives that are simply table stakes. Today’s consumer wants more. They want you to be proactive, and they want to see you implementing behaviors that affect more than just your bottom line. And the investor community is increasingly demanding to know your climate risks. So that means you need a comprehensive understanding of your environmental and social impacts, actual science-based goals and targets and reporting. You probably haven’t been doing that since before they called it sustainability.

2. You better believe it

It has to be true. It has to be something that your employees can and do believe in. It has to fit who you are.

Don’t create new values; find efforts that align with your current DNA. For example, if you have a conservative culture, do something that fits. Don’t try to get your team on board with saving the habitat of the Humboldt Penguin.

Find something that resonates with who you are. This one may sound tactical as opposed to creative, but authenticity is the foundation of effective communication.

3. Give it a face (a human one)

People have and always will care most about people. Find the human face of your story. Even if you have an initiative around a natural environment or ecosystem, make sure you include the human benefit. 

For example, if you are working toward cleaner waterways, bring that effort to life by showing the impact on fishermen and families that live along those waterways. Sure, we all love the snowy egret, but seeing a child who reminds you of your own is what you connect with.

4. Make it you

Everything you communicate should be connected to you. Who you are as a company. What you believe and why you believe it.

Your sustainability voice should be the same as your brand voice, and your sustainability efforts should be related to your expertise. That’s where you’ll do the most good, and it’s where people will most easily connect your efforts with your brand.

When you do things outside of your wheelhouse, no matter how well intended, they will get lost in the marketing noise.

5. Make it big

The power of purpose lies in believing in something bigger than ourselves. The voice and tone of your story should reflect the gravity of what’s at stake. And your words and visuals should resonate with energy and strength.

6. Be the humblest of them all

The idea of "doing good" for financial gain can open one up to criticism. The best antidote to criticism of this type is full transparency and full humility.

This is a big planet. You are not going to change it by yourself. Speak from a place of doing your part as opposed to being a hero. Speak with a tone that communicates that it’s an honor to serve as opposed to "look at me."

7. Keep hope alive

It’s easy for sustainability to focus on the negative. Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, poor air quality. Unfortunately, those things are real and happening.

That said, if your goal is to engage people and make a difference, give them hope. Give them something to believe in. Being a critic is easy, but people don’t follow critics. They follow leaders, and that’s what you and your organization want to be.

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