How To Succeed in CSR and Sustainability

Susan Nickbarg
Susan Nickbarg

As discussed in PR News last week, the recent debut of the SPI (Social Progress Index) has major repercussions for the communications industry.

The SPI is designed to measure countries’ social and environmental progress as a complement to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), which measures the value of all the products and services produced in one year.

Below are a few guidelines (with subheads) on how to help your organization excel in different aspects of social responsibility and sustainability communications:

Management communications:

A key challenge is that not all leaders are aware of what metrics to use to measure, benchmark and communicate in ways that demonstrate progress with corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability. In today’s landscape, where there is also an evolutionary course from informal statements to formal sustainability reporting, PR and marketing can collaborate and help to:

Figure out which social and environmental metrics are important to your organization’s stakeholders. Communicators no longer have to rely solely on opinion and story telling about social and environment impacts.

There are outside standards-setting organizations with frameworks and processes that can be adapted, such as the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) or CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) that provide focus to sustainability reporting benchmarks and communications.

Monitor global stock exchanges for listed companies in terms of social and environmental corporate governance and disclosure requirements. New requirements related to corporate responsibility have been introduced in Scandinavian countries as well as the Shenzen and Shanghai Stock Exchanges (China), and the Bovespa Stock Exchange (Brazil).

By monitoring exchanges of interest you can be ready to advise your company what it must do to qualify.

Track which customers face amended “greener” sourcing requirements when they purchase goods and services. Collaborate with colleagues on the types of communications messages, documentation materials, and channels needed among your organizations’ vendors and partners to describe “greener” production and sales in areas including sourcing, recycling, and waste management.

Marketing communications:

Challenges for external marketing communications generally refer to the ‘consumer’ and/or ‘NGOs’ and ‘crisis management.’

A key challenge is showing that content is material, transparent and validated. Here, PR and marketing can collaborate several ways to:

Engage third-party auditing of CSR reports. The impact of external reporting assurance not only builds trust, but also can impact selection into prestigious lists such as Newsweek’s Greenest Companies or CRO 100 Best Citizens.

PR and marketing can be advisors when deciding which social and environmental goals and metrics to publicize.

Have a sustainability-related crisis management communications sub-plan embedded into the corporate disaster recovery plan. This would include a chain-of-call-command and action plan for sustainability-related crisis and disaster for when ethical, environment, activist or labor strike crises could arise.

Organizational communications: A key challenge facing many companies is that usually there is no inter-linking and uniform database for data capture on social and environmental metrics.

Therefore PR and marketing can help raise internal awareness to create uniform databases for capturing social and environmental data metrics.

Set up NGO stakeholder discussion councils and meet with SRI analysts on social and environmental issues in regular briefings. Building stakeholder councils with specific communities and/or with NGOs and SRI analysts on social and environmental impact fosters working relationships and obtains important feedback loops.

Being a part of culture change to help reconfigure from old to new requires some PR mojo. By leveraging a few of these practices, you can power up tangible actions and be ready to engage in planning and sustainability communications that create an effective and material dialog. 


Susan Nickbarg is principal of SVN Marketing. She can be reached at Susan Nickbarg,; @svnickbarg.

This article appeared in the June 3 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.