How Companies Communicate Sustainability Strategies Online

More and more, company websites are becoming dynamic educational tools that businesses can use to communicate their sustainability strategy to stakeholders.  As a recent report published by AltaTerra Research reveals, corporate marketing and stakeholder communication are evolving in interesting ways.  The report  analyzes the evolution of corporate sustainability reporting and evaluates how sustainable business leaders are communicating their sustainability strategy online.

AltaTerra Research hosted a webinar yesterday in which it reviewed key findings from its recent report, entitled “Greening the Company Website: A New Era in Online Sustainability Reporting.” During the webinar Jaclyn Pitera, senior research analyst and lead report author, presented her research findings while Jim Hanna, director of environmental impact at Starbucks, shared best practices for sustainability reporting and stakeholder engagement from his experience with the Starbucks Shared Planet website.

One thing that’s clear from the AltaTerra report is that corporate sustainability reporting has evolved from a one-way to a two-way communication stream.  Of the 60 companies–including Timberland, Patagonia, Walmart, Intel and Starbucks–that Pitera and her team researched for the report, 85 percent currently report sustainability information online.

Companies that are leading the way in effective online reporting and stakeholder communication all have websites that are dynamic, interactive, and transparent.  The leading company websites also share the following attributes:

  • Ease of Access to Information
  • Ease of Navigation
  • Graphics
  • Engagement
  • Timeliness
  • Completeness
  • Performance Statistics
  • External Assurance

By communicating corporate sustainability goals, actions, and performance data online, companies have the opportunity to engage with stakeholders in more meaningful ways, as well as increase the credibility of their sustainability efforts.

Some companies, such as Timberland, are pushing the envelope with sustainability reporting and are updating performance data on company websites on a quarterly basis.  The annual PDF of a company’s CSR Report may no longer suffice in the coming years, if this trend continues.

Companies are also waking up to the benefits of social media.  Social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and  Foursquare, provide companies new ways to interact with different stakeholders and build customer loyalty.

Other companies, such as Starbucks, are using websites to disclose how they are mitigating their environmental footprint and helping customers learn how they can do the same.  Starbucks, which recently gave its Shared Planet website a facelift, provides an interactive way to review online the various aspects of its sustainability strategy–from energy, water and recycling, to coffee purchasing, farmer loans and green building.  The company also uses Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare as a new medium for marketing and for interacting directly with customers and talking about its sustainability initiatives.

Starbucks’ Hanna put it this way, “In the days of very expensive traditional advertising, this is a great way to hit a whole range of customers and create a buzz among that customer base without spending a ton of money.”

Nayelli Gonzalez

Nayelli Gonzalez is Managing Director of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships at, a capacity building organization that supports the growing ecosystem of impact-focused conveners, accelerators, and mappers. A sustainability innovation strategist and storyteller dedicated to purpose-driven work, Nayelli has advised startups, nonprofits, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies to drive engagement and amplify positive impact in the world. She's a trained journalist with an MBA who writes on sustainable business and social impact trends for a variety of publications.

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