Sustainability Communications is NOT ESG communication

October 10, 2023

When clients approach us to help them our dialogue 90% looks like this

Client: Hey Gihan, we hear you are the best in market when it comes to sustainability communications hence this call

Me: eww that is very kind of you thank you. So how can I help you?

Client: You see, we are going through our 3rd round of investments and our desired investors are asking us to demonstrate how our products and services are saving people and planet?

Me: aaaa ok… so what you need is ESG communication and not Sustainability communication.

Client: hmm… what is the difference between them?

This is where I walk my clients through the difference.

Sustainability Communications:

  1. According to research Sustainability is a complex idea that encompasses all the organization's efforts to minimize its negative impact on the world. The concept is often associated with the “triple bottom line” (people, planet, profit), and governance is not necessarily included.
  2. The term is usually associated with the environmental impact of the organization and not the social or governance impact.
  3. It’s the way the organization tells its customers and audience that it is committed to saving our planet.
  4. It’s about sharing their environmental impact plan with their desired audience starting from employees, suppliers, customers, and shareholders.
  5. It usually focuses on the processes, initiatives and procedures that brings the environmental impact to life. For example, installing recycling bins throughout the office or launching a CO2 calculator app to help employees measure their carbon footprint.
  6. Any size of organization can have Sustainability communication as part of their business-as-usual communications.

The main audience according to research for sustainability communications are consumers, employees, suppliers and future talent and the department responsible for it is the corporate social responsibility team (CSR).

Examples of sustainability communications messages includes Patagonia’s “the earth is now our only shareholder" in otherwards the messages are human, relatable, and simple to understand

Whereas Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) communications is the three dimensions that are distinct and have measurable aspects tied to independent ratings and rankers.

  1. There is a heavy emphasis on managing risk, reputation, operations, and capital across these dimensions. Sometimes it’s referred to as an “outside-in” approach i.e. what impact would our planet and the societies we operate in will have on our operations and services? (
  2. How people and planet decisions are being made within the organisation starting with its board members and ending with its suppliers, employees, and shareholders.
  3. How the company is performing from an E, S, G perspective based on a series of data sets and standards. In other wards its more structured and science-based type of communications.

The main audience for ESG communication is institutional investors, regulators, and rating agencies

Examples of ESG communications messages includes one from Energy Recovery’s stating “The ratio between the annual total compensation of the chief executive officer and the annual total compensation for the median employee was 13:1 in 2018 and 20:1 in 2019.”

My advice to best communicate both your sustainability and your ESG commitment is to follow these three steps:

  1. Don’t fear sharing your data and story with your audience and if you are not 100% certain that your findings and outcomes are correct say it as it is and be transparent. Its best to communicate than to “Green Hush”.
  2. Don’t be too technical when sharing your stories and messages, not everyone understands the sustainability/ ESG terminologies or science behind it so ensure you test it with various members of your ecosystem including employees, family members and customers first.
  3. Ensure you link your messages to your values and themes to help you include context to your story otherwise your audience won’t understand how this campaign fits in with the wider strategy.

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I plan to disrupt the #Sustainability ecosystem by making it more diverse and inclusive. I will do so by having 10 personas in one room through our #sustainovate round tables. Thank you @xandwhyspace for sponsoring our Nov event. DM me if you wish to join us #SustainableFuture

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