Communicating something called: sustainability

-Originally published at blog –

This post is the first in a series of Communication and Sustainability insights that I will be posting on the ZN blog.  Since I am interested in this topic and am starting to explore best practices, I thought they would be worth sharing.

Let’s start from the basics: What does living sustainably mean and why is it important?

Living sustainably is about living within the means of our natural systems (environment) and ensuring that our lifestyle as well as work operations don’t harm other people (society and culture). It is really about thinking where our food, clothes, energy and other products come from and deciding whether we should buy them.

Sustainability is a current global concern and a priority for many governments therefore, it is a communication hot-topic for organisations that are looking for ways “to demonstrate” how much they care about their impact to our planet.

However, beyond just showing “how much paper we recycle at the office”, it’s all about taking responsibility for the future of our society. “It’s the ability or capacity of something to be maintained or to sustain itself. It’s about taking what we need to live now, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. United Nations.

Let me share with you one of my favourite videos that illustrates this topic:




You may ask what about the big industries that are damaging the planet? Are they aware of their responsibility to be sustainable? I would say: I hope so! :-)

It’s all about “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR). The European Commission has a simpler definition of CSR: “the responsibility of enterprises for their impacts on society”. Therefore, enterprises should have in place means of integrating social, environmental, ethical human rights and consumer concerns in their business operations and core strategy.

The United Nations’ Global Compact has defined a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. “By doing so, businesses, as a primary driver of globalisation, can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere and in time”. Read more about the UN Global Compact Network principles.

In the sphere of Communications, Public Relations and Advocacy, one of the main topics of discussion is the differentiation between the typical “green communication”, which relates exclusively to matters concerning the environment (i.e. cutting CO2 emissions, climate change, etc), and the other types of communication related to other areas of sustainability (i.e. responsible supply chain management, philanthropic programs, education, fair labour conditions, etc).

Every company is looking for ways to show its commitment to full sustainability, or at least to corporate and social responsibility programs.

When communicating on sustainability, the following elements should be taken into consideration:

  • Define your communication strategy based on the values that reflect your organisation as “socially responsible”.
  • Make it happen: Report on active programs and activities that reflect your organisation’s commitment towards sustainability.
  • Keep it real: Make sure you have measurable targets and results that demonstrate your commitment towards sustainability.
  • Validate your efforts: Make sure your organisation/company has certifications such as ISO 26000 or COP (Global Compact) that validate your actions towards sustainability.
  • Spread the word: Produce visible and accessible CSR/Sustainability reports, create policies within the organisation, use social media to gather input and join the debate.

Next time… How social media and sustainability work together?

Don’t miss my next blog post where I will share some interesting examples. :)  In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic:

Are you working on communications and sustainability? What are you biggest concerns and suggestions? Do you have an interesting case to share?

Join the debate with other communicators in Belgium interested in sustainability, follow this link:

I look forward to your thoughts and comments!


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