1. Be true to your brand: Social impact isn’t separate from your brand
How your sustainability and CSR efforts align with your values, brand attributes, and business strategies informs how you tell your sustainability story, from narrative to design. That said, don’t be afraid to stretch your visual brand language. You may need to expand your toolkit with additional icons or graphics. As always, your communication needs to be on-brand.
2. Keep it simple: Get clear on the communication scope and depth for sustainability efforts
Sustainability can be complex and abstract. There can be a tendency toward a “kitchen sink” mentality — to try to include global carbon emissions reduction and office recycling — with local employee efforts in between. Resist the temptation to include every possible piece of information. All of your efforts may be worthy, but you will never disclose enough to satisfy everyone, and the everything-no-filter approach rarely leads to effective reporting. Plus, stakeholders are rarely satisfied, you can never disclose enough!
What metrics are most important to your company, and what messages do you most want to communicate? Your clear priorities and business strategy should inform the hierarchy of information and focus the stories you include. More is not always more.
3. Keep it relatable: Make stories succinct and personal
“Stopping Climate Change” is a major and noble goal, but it’s so big it’s difficult to grasp. Stories involving people bring your efforts to a relatable scale, and give readers an “on-ramp” to your more complex issues and statistics. All readers—even data nerds—relate to human stories where individual efforts have positive and measurable impact on people and communities. Especially when they can see and hear from those whose lives were affected.
Avoid jargon, write in a clear, appealing, conversational tone. Avoid information overload — don’t overwhelm the reader, complex topics benefit from visualization and callouts.
4. Visualize information: Make complex sustainability ideas more understandable
Infographics, charts, callouts and key stats can make complex ideas more digestible. And, that layer of visual information, in addition to the detail where necessary, keeps information scannable for all readers, quickly communicating the salient points.
On the web, video and animations can enrich storytelling and engage visitors who may not read everything. All these items can draw readers in and encourage them to dig deeper, but don’t go overboard! White space and uncrowded layouts mean optimum readability.
5. Avoid visual cliches: Sustainability isn’t always green or crafty-looking
Sustainability/CSR covers many broad and deep topics, and using imagery that is applicable to your organization, relevant to your business and aligned to your visual brand signals that you take these topics seriously. It’s okay to use green as a signifier—hopefully a shared from your brand palette—but no need to use all green. Overdone, it can seem lazy, and trite.
Sustainability has moved far beyond granola and Birkenstocks. Avoid looking “homespun” and “crafty” with handwriting fonts and graphics that seek to mimic a handmade feel. While these may appeal to certain consumer audiences, they undercut the seriousness of your message in a corporate or organizational context.
Remember, no seedings, no earth from space, no gratuitous close up of the recycling logo. Better to skip photography than use poor quality, it can look great. Sustainability/CSR is (or should be) a business priority, treat it that way.
6. Tell the truth: Sustainability is a journey, honesty goes a long way
With the world in flux, to say the least, and the growing pressure to be sustainable measured against evolving standards and frameworks, it can be tempting for an organization to want to “pad” their efforts. But, it takes years to build investor, employee and public trust—and just one misstep to blow it. Be authentic, communicate your good faith efforts, the progress you’ve made towards your goals — and the obstacles you’ve encountered along the way.
Get guidance: Consider expert help
Of course, to get your messages out most effectively, you may need the help of strategy, storytelling, design, development and production pros. If you find yourself are struggling to see the forest for the trees inside your own company, consider engaging an expert. Check out the award-winning and stakeholder-pleasing sustainability communications we’ve created — and email us to get in touch if you need help with yours.