Communicating About Corporate Sustainability – The Challenges

Some interesting perspectives are shared on corporate sustainability strategies and actions by the famed Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania in its current Knowledge@Wharton essay: lessons learned in how to communicate about corporate sustainability. As managers involved in CR and sustainability know, it is not always easy – whether it is internal or external communication.

Of course, it’s important who the audience in focus is when communicating. And, what will interest them most so that they will tune in and receive the message. (And not tune you out!)

There are challenges in discussions about “change.” Not all sustainability efforts have immediate financial gain. They may cost more to do early on (with longer-term cost reductions in mind). Need buy-in? Don’t talk about “benefits” to justify a project cost, advises John Frey, Hewlett-Packard sustainability innovation technologist. He observes: “The challenge is to tell the story in a way that is meaningful to someone who does not speak sustainability-ease, to translate our message into a relevant conversation with a customer…”

Another approach may be to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the time horizon of a project so that what looks like an increased cost in the short-term may well save money over time, advises Janet Howard, director of facility engagement at non-profit Practice Greenhealth (PGH).

Explaining the strategic business advantage of a sustainability program may be a way to gain attention. Shawn Mason, associate director of outcomes research and data analytics at Johnson & Johnson’s Health & Wellness Solutions talks up the metrics developed around employee health and productivity. This could be a strategic business advantage to leverage.

For sure, based in the many conversations that the G&A Institute team have with corporate managers, talking about the company’s sustainability journey is not always easy. It’s along the lines of what Joel Makower, publisher of Greenbiz has said: “The real job of the chief sustainability officer is to be a chief translation officer…”

There’s more solid advice and perspectives shared by sustainability professionals from Knowledge@Wharton in the article How to Talk about Sustainability When It’s Not a Simple Win-Win from Thursday – March 05, 2015.

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