How to Address Profitability in CSR Communications

Starbucks is an excellent example of a company effectively communicating their sustainability strategy.

By Jenna Cyprus

The third “p” of triple bottom line clearly highlights the importance of “profitability.” However, it seems like many businesses are weary of discussing their CSR success in relation to financial success. Do you understand what it looks like to effectively communicate sustainability in pursuit of bolstering your brand image (and profits)?

The Role of Effective Sustainability Communication

There’s tremendous value in doing something good and not seeking recognition.

But this idea of staying silent when you do something good does not carry over into the business world. Communicating to the public the positive things your organization is doing is necessary in order to maintain positive branding. The following equation is relevant when studying the link between sustainability and success:

Sustainability + Good Communication = Profitability

If you take away good communication, it’s nearly impossible for an investment in sustainability to provide a business-side return.

Effective communication about what’s happening in the area of sustainability will drive profitability – but the key word here is “effective.” There are right and wrong ways to go about communicating progress in this area.

Every situation is different, but here are some things to think about:

1. Prioritize responsiveness
Effective communication is all about engaging stakeholders in palpable ways. When customers reach out to your brand, how are they treated? Do their questions, comments, and concerns get ignored or pushed to the back of the queue? Or are they engaged in a manner that shows they’re important to the organization?

Once you start communicating sustainability to consumers, the frequency of interactions you have with customers will intensify – and you have to be ready. The more efficiently you respond, the more customers will be willing to engage you on this topic in the future.

Seventh Generation, a growing company that provides safe and effective household cleaning products, is one example of a company that prioritizes responsiveness in their sustainability initiatives. All you have to do is browse their Instagram account and you’ll see how they frequently respond to comments and interact with followers.

2. Leverage social media

Speaking of social media, this is something you really have to prioritize moving forward. As expert Matthew Yeomans said, “It has become the mainstream and is embedded in every form of online communication but also in the sensibilities and expectations of everyone online. So how companies understand and use social media to communicate their sustainability activities will only grow in importance as it too becomes part of the business communication mainstream.”

If you want to understand what it looks like to effectively leverage social media, check out what Johnson & Johnson does. As part of their “Commitment to Caring,” they use their official Twitter account to curate and share content that spotlights some of the different things the company is doing to promote sustainability around the world. It’s a simple thing that ultimately makes a big difference by showing people tangible evidence of the company’s CSR initiatives.

3. Evangelize your employees

Internally, strong communication helps you efficiently implement change and get your employees on board. If employees don’t know what’s going on, they won’t be able to effectively advocate for your brand’s efforts. Externally, communicating sustainable practices and strategies ensures you’re able to recruit top talent and reach “green” consumers. Why is it, then, that so many companies forget about this important aspect of the equation?

Starbucks, a company that is very committed to environmental sustainability, is an example of an organization that does a good job of encouraging employees to be brand advocates. They primarily do this by providing employees, who they call partners, with clear communication guidelines.

4. Partner with others

There’s tremendous power in numbers. Using your voice alone is one thing. Combining your voice with others in the community is another.

The New England Aquarium in Boston is a perfect example. The organization has long been committed to protecting the oceans, but has recently collaborated with local chefs, seafood providers, environmental groups, and ocean educators to enhance its “live blue” program.

5. Dive in deep

PepsiCo is another example of a company that does a nice job of communicating sustainability with external stakeholders. The brand has created a microsite that communicates the company’s ethos and provides a way of diving deeper into important topics.

As PepsiCo’s senior director of sustainability communications Erin Thomas explained, the goal of the site is to explore “issues which are important to the world and in which our company has a role to play a step further. Our aim is to create a dynamic digital user experience to discuss complex, pressing challenges and solutions, big and small.”

Effective Communication Matters

There is no substitute for effective communication when trying to extract maximum value from your investments in sustainability. You don’t have to feel bad about discussing the good you’re doing. Profitability is an integral part of the triple bottom line and clear communication is how you get there.

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