ESG, sustainability and corporate responsibility have been elevated during the past 18 months of economic, political and social change. For business the risks are growing — the risk of doing nothing and the risk of getting it wrong. Every company has a story to tell about how they manage risk and seize opportunities across the range of ESG issues.
Tell your authentic ESG story backed up with evidence and build trust in your company. PWC recently published a report on The Complexity of Trust in businesses and their foundational pillars of trust align with ESG priorities. When you do what you said you’d do, and communicate it well, that’s your credible story. Ultimately this supports your overall corporate reputation and enhances your relationship with your customers and employees.
So, how do you tell a credible story?
1. Align your ESG Strategy with your purpose
Your ESG strategy should support your company’s purpose, align with your business’s material issues as well as relevant standards and frameworks. Ensure your company’s purpose is clear and communicated to employees, management is incentivised to pursue your goals, and efforts are coordinated and aligned across the company. A strong corporate purpose is correlated with higher financial returns — a win for everyone. Set an overarching ESG strategy aligned to your purpose and follow through.
2. Consider your audiences
ESG is a multi-stakeholder operation. Stakeholders will often have competing perspectives, so use a hub and spoke model to provide information to every audience where they are, and at the right level of detail. Create a central location for reports with consistent data formatting, and use social media, blogs and articles to offer other perspectives. By utilizing different communication channels, you can tailor messages and select the most relevant proof points. What resonates with investors may not be the same for your employees.
Scale your approach to your level of ambition — are you keeping pace with regulatory standards, or are you seeking to lead your industry?
3. Data is powerful, context is critical
Your data is the evidence your ESG story is true. It can come from a variety of sources and systems so extracting and aggregating, and vetting for disclosure is an often manual process. For now, little reporting is mandatory, although this will likely change over time (maybe very soon). Established formats meet the needs of investors and raters, making comparisons simple. Visualizations make data accessible to a broader audience. Let the numbers help tell your story.
Without context, data is just data. Telling a differentiated ESG story means bringing your data to life. Start visualizing the data then explain it in context to the world we live in. What do these numbers mean to your company? To society? What is the impact? The narrative you tell reveals the company’s purpose, and adds the human element. It’s owning up to your mistakes and shortfalls. It’s the heart of your story. It’s not just where you are now, but where you are going and how you’ll get there.
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4. Expand your ESG story
Your ESG story is not a “set it and forget it” task. Standards and frameworks are evolving fast, and addressing all the varied issues that fall under ESG, Sustainability and CSR is a process, the ‘journey’ so many talk about. Keep an eye on questions coming from customers, employees, raters and investors. If you are missing a key piece of the story they will let you know.
But, “opening the aperture” to include more is not permission to lose focus. Maintain your consist foundation, aligned to your purpose. Assess the channels you use, the substance and tone of the messages will adapt to the context — but the foundation is fixed. By delivering a steady stream of consistent messages, you’ll establish trust and build credibility.
How Ideas On Purpose can help
For over 20 years IOP has been helping companies of all sizes with purpose-driven communications, including corporate reporting and ESG storytelling. Our strategy, content, digital and creative teams are ready to help you define and tell your credible story, and meet your ESG reporting goals. Feel free to email us, we’re happy to discuss the possibilities.