When the first wave of environmentalism washed ashore in the 1980s and early ’90s, it was easy to cite the increase in regulation as the main driver. Businesses implemented green practices out of necessity and little else; meanwhile, the general public adopted “reduce, reuse, recycle”-like mantras without making truly organic (no pun intended) changes to their lifestyles.
Today, it’s a different story, with businesses and consumers alike altering their behavior and witnessing the benefits—economic, social, environmental—accordingly. But by no means does that guarantee the green movement’s immortality; on the contrary, business leaders must go to even greater lengths to fully integrate sustainable practices into their business strategies. Communicators can use their relationship-building propensities to facilitate the sustainable strategy development process because, as it turns out, it’s something they’ve been equipped to do all along.
â–¶ First things first. As with all communications initiatives, identifying all relevant stakeholder groups is essential to success, as messages need to be tailored to each group in order to resonate.
“Identify all parties who are or may be affected environmentally by your business,” says David Rinard, director of Global Environmental Performance for Steelcase Inc., with regard to aligning target audiences around a green theme. “Establish a process to communicate and consult with those stakeholders; don’t do it by accident.”
Beyond considering the impact green/sustainable business practices have on stakeholders, communicators should osition marketing efforts around risk management and opportunity capitalization.
“A sustainability strategy provides both risk mitigation and new business opportunities,” Rinard says, citing risks as process disruptions, legal compliance issues and threats to the organization’s reputation. Opportunities include production improvements, an enhanced workforce, business model innovation, cost savings and revenue opportunities.
â–¶ See the forest for the trees. Nicole Rousseau, VP of retail marketing for HSBC, recommends that once you know your target stakeholders—and, of course, the environmental issues that directly impact your business (see grid)—take a step back and consider that “sustainability marketing is a virtuous circle,” in which one step begets the next in the following way:
• External forces, world events and business realities >
• A corporate commitment to sustainability >
• Global strategic processes, practices and partnerships >
• A platform for local/national company engagement >
• Core team of committed and engaged staff develop programs >
• Connect marketing strategy to business >
• Consumer engagement drives positive business results >
• Positive consumer and opinion leader results drive internal acceptance >
• Acceptance drives further employee adoption >
• Corporate commitment to sustainability is strengthened.
…And so on.
Rousseau offers this process in the context of HSBC’s green efforts and subsequent marketing initiatives, which began in earnest in the spring of 2007. With the ubiquity of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth blockbuster as a backdrop, her team wanted to position HSBC as “the world’s local bank of emerging green consumers.”
â–¶ Identify objectives. Rousseau underscores the importance of identifying key objectives before sending green messages out into a vacuum. These objectives will be the benchmarks against which success will be judged; they will also be the guideposts for each stage of the strategy’s execution.
â–¶ Develop and execute the strategy around objectives. “Strategy development [happens] in the context of your organization’s culture and needs,” Rinard says. “Understand why you need a strategy. Evaluate what issues you need to consider and how these factors evolve into your strategy.”
Then, with regard to strategy execution, Rinard recommends asking yourself if the organizational structure is aligned to the sustainable business strategy in terms of governance, structure, resources and culture. Additional key questions include:
• Does the strategy create opportunities for workers to engage?
• Are measurements aligned with the performance goals of the business?
• Are employee performance goals aligned with sustainability goals?
Ultimately, communicators must remember that sustainable business is just that: sustainable. It develops over time and evolves in step with changes in the business itself. Therefore, it’s not about taking a huge leap into the green abyss.
“It isn’t always about big, famous people doing great things,” Rinard says. “More often than not, thousands of little people doing little things will make monumental changes.” PRN
Contact: David Rinard, email@example.com; John Friedman, firstname.lastname@example.org; Nicole Rousseau, email@example.com