Tree Planting is No Longer Enough: Advancing Authentic Sustainability Communication in the Philippines

Tree Planting is No Longer Enough: Advancing Authentic Sustainability Communication in the Philippines

 Sustainability Philippines

In this Philippine edition of Vero’s greenwatching playbook, we look at the climate change awareness and sustainability efforts of Filipino brands and marketers.

Start experimenting and try calling out greenwashing through our Greenwatching AI bot. You can sign up here.

 

Climate change presents significant challenges for development in the Philippines, a nation aspiring to achieve upper middle-income status by 2025. In a survey conducted by the Social Weather Station in 2022, nine in every 10 Filipinos admitted that they are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.  

According to the World Bank, climate shocks, ranging from extreme weather events to gradual environmental shifts, have the potential to impede economic activities, impair infrastructure, and lead to profound social disruptions.  

The government has pledged a projected reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 75% for the period of 2020 to 2030 and has long required local governments to develop a local climate change action plan. However, the Philippines is heavily dependent on fossil fuels – the largest contributor to global climate change. This fossil fuel “addiction” is deterring the country from securing a livable and sustainable future for all. 

 

Philippines Climate Risk Profile

 

In this Philippine edition of the greenwatching playbook, Southeast Asia communications consultancy Vero identifies the major industries contributing to climate change in the country, tackles climate change awareness and actions through surveys and interviews, and offers a conceptual framework for Filipino brands and companies regarding authentic sustainability communication. 

 

Where the Philippines’ carbon emissions come from 

GHG emissions in the Philippines

 

The Philippines has not been a substantial source of greenhouse gas emissions historically, but it may contribute more in the future. The country had 1.6 tons of average per capita carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions in 2012, which is far below the global average of 6.5 tons, per data from the Asian Development Bank

Emissions are rapidly rising. Between 1992 and 2012, emissions rose 3% annually and, between 2006 and 2012, this growth rate accelerated to 4%. More than half of 2012 emissions were from the energy and transport sectors, and the energy sector has been the main source of emissions growth. 

The energy sector is recognized as a major contributor to the adverse effects of global climate change, and emissions are projected to quadruple by 2030. The sector faces the dual challenges of heavy reliance on fossil fuels and imported energy and high energy demand.  

 

How Filipino consumers and marketers see sustainability and their role in promoting it 

Survey - Sustainability Awareness 

Earlier this year, Vero conducted surveys and interviews with Filipino consumers and communication professionals to understand their perceptions and behaviors related to sustainability. 

Filipino consumers’ view on sustainability 

Among the participants surveyed, only 33% said they are active advocates of a sustainability cause or movement in the Philippines, with the majority contributing through volunteer work (such as community management, tree planting, and clean-up drives) and social media amplification (such as sharing posts related to the advocacy). 

But while only a few have active involvement in sustainability movements, 65% of respondents agree that companies and brands play big roles in promoting environment-friendly practices, as they serve as communication vehicles to aid in informing people about sustainability-related issues. Only 27%, though, believe companies are truthful about their initiatives, with the majority saying companies only ride on trends (38%) and fabricate results (22%). 

Perspectives of Filipino marketers regarding their contribution to sustainability 

Given the fact that consumers in the Philippines see brands and companies as “communication vehicles” about sustainability issues and initiatives, we interviewed marketing and communication professionals across industries. This approach aimed to gain comprehensive insights into their awareness and initiatives regarding sustainability. 

All seven interviewees have clear awareness of sustainability, saying it involves “reducing, reusing, recycling materials,” “maintaining a business process or model without depleting resources,” and “striking a balance between the environment and economy.” However, four of them admitted having no or little knowledge of greenwashing and greenhushing — two terms considered to be some of the biggest challenges to sustainability communications, as tackled in our Greenwatching Playbook published in May. 

 

Greenwashing and Greenhushing

 

Interestingly, only one interviewee said sustainability is deeply rooted in the core corporate values, while one said practices are limited to energy-saving and waste recycling. Some respondents added that they don’t put sustainability as a top priority since it’s not currently impacting their businesses. 

“Unfortunately, when our customers shop, they usually consider 1) design, 2) quality, 3) price first. Only after do they consider if it is sustainable or not. At the moment, our customers do not prioritize this important initiative,” said a senior marketing communications supervisor of a retail company. “Regardless of the indifference the market has towards this important topic, it should not stop marketers from talking about this truthfully, especially if it is part of the brand’s values.” 

 

‘Greenwatching’ in the Philippines 

One of the biggest struggles in mitigating the impacts of climate change and holding major GHG contributors accountable is the prevalence of corporate greenwashing. With brands in the Philippines racing to make their sustainability efforts heard and seen by consumers, many fall into the trap of using bold and grand statements in the way they communicate with stakeholders and the public, eventually (deliberately or not) ignoring authenticity and candor. 

In the Philippines, where tree planting activities are the go-to CSR practices for companies (mainly because they provide tangible proof and are good for photo documentation), sustainability practices are often made to sound grander than they truly entail. There have been several instances when private companies and organizations planted the wrong seedlings in the wrong areas or failed to seek recommendations from scientists and conservationist groups, rendering the activities not just ineffective but wasteful. This misrepresentation leads companies off track from the comprehensive, long-term strategies necessary for genuine sustainability.

 

Greenwatching Philippines

 

Several multinational companies with solid presence in the Philippines have been called out for greenwashing and false sustainability claims. In March 2022, activists sent plastic waste back to Nestle together with letters from youth demanding the world’s largest food and beverage company to move to truly sustainable packaging solutions and stop producing single-use plastics. 

Here are other examples of corporate greenwashing in the Philippines in recent months. We also tasked our ‘Greenwatching’ bot to assess specific communication materials by involved parties and determine whether they’ve committed the seven sins of greenwashing: no proof, vagueness, worshipping false labels, irrelevance, hidden trade-off, lesser of two evils, and fibbing. 

The Greenwatching is an AI bot built by Candide.Ai, based on OpenAI’s large language model and trained with specific knowledge and frameworks for greenwashing analysis synthesized in Vero’s sustainability playbook.  

Greenwatching bot

Meet our AI bot, Greenwatching, built by Candide.Ai, based on OpenAI’s large language model and trained with specific knowledge and frameworks for greenwashing analysis synthesized in Vero’s playbook.


1) Shell Pilipinas Corporation’s development of ‘nature-based solutions’ 

What’s happening: Shell Pilipinas Corporation, one of the largest petroleum companies in the country, announced in May its plan to develop “nature-based solutions” for the country’s environment and natural resources. 

What environmental activists say: This partnership may raise conflicts of interest, given Shell’s fossil fuel operations. Environmental activists called it “shameless greenwashing” and urged the petroleum company to stop its fossil fuel expansion and pay Filipinos reparations for losses and damages from climate impacts.  

What the ‘Greenwatching’ bot found based on the announcement released by Shell Pilipinas Corporation:  

No Proof: The communication provides some evidence to support the claims made, such as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between SPC and DENR, and the National Greening Program under Executive Order No. 193. However, it lacks specific details about the projects or initiatives that will be undertaken as part of the collaboration. 

Vagueness: The term “Nature-Based Solutions (NBS)” is defined in the communication as activities related to the protection and enhancement of natural ecosystems or projects that improve agricultural sustainability. However, the communication could provide more specific examples of what these solutions might look like in practice. 

Hidden Trade-Off: The communication mentions that SPC is “transforming its business to meet its target by avoiding and reducing emissions from its operations and from the fuels and other energy products it sells to its customers.” This could potentially be a hidden trade-off, as it does not specify how these reductions will be achieved and whether there will be any negative environmental impacts associated with this transformation. 

2) San Miguel Corporation’s “sustainable efforts” in building the New Manila Airport (NMAI) 

What’s happening: San Miguel Corporation released a conceptual master plan for its massive green-designed and future-ready aerocity development in Bulacan in 2022. The development is part of SMC’s Php740-billion New Manila International Airport project, which aims to boost national and local economies. SMC said the project reflects the vision of a modern Philippine city that provides built-in solutions to various socio-economic, environmental, and climate issues, and correct the mistakes seen in many urban developments of Metro Manila.   

What environmental activists say: Advocates dispute SMC’s green claims, particularly concerning the New Manila International Airport project, saying it “spells environmental disaster and fisheries collapse in the province.” The location of the airport is at risk for earthquakes since Manila Bay is surrounded by the Marikina Valley Fault System, the Lubao Fault in Pampanga, and the Manila Trench, which are potential earthquake generators. It is also at risk for subsidence, the sinking of the ground’s surface due to geologic or man-made activities, which is aggravated by excessive groundwater extraction. 

What the ‘Greenwatching’ bot found based on an announcement released by San Miguel Corporation

No Proof: The press release provides some evidence to support the claims made, such as the commitment to restore and rehabilitate the existing mangrove forest cover and clean the rivers surrounding the airport project. However, it lacks specific details about how these initiatives will be implemented and what their expected impact will be. 

Vagueness: The term “green urbanism” is used without a clear definition or explanation. This could potentially confuse or mislead readers. The press release also mentions that the airport city will utilize renewable energy and accommodate both traditional and alternative modes of transportation but does not provide further details on these aspects. 

Hidden Trade-Off: The press release mentions that the airport city will be properly zoned, with areas dedicated to various sectors, including agriculture and food production, logistics, health and wellness, aeronautics, finance, science and technology, commerce, residences, education, tourism, entertainment, recreation, and government. However, it does not specify how these zones will be developed in a sustainable manner and whether there will be any negative environmental impacts associated with this development. 

Why authentic sustainability communication matters 

The prevalence of greenwashing impacts how Filipinos now engage with brands and perceive sustainability, undermining genuine eco-conscious efforts and making it challenging for consumers to make informed choices. 

With consumer loyalty at stake, brands are now pushed to prioritize clear, transparent, and educative sustainability communication, and eventually bridge the gap between perception and reality. 

 

Greenwatching Philippines - Nicole Briones

 

All sustainability communication in the Philippines and elsewhere should start with a declaration of intent – what the company wants to achieve based on its capabilities and resources. Brands should prioritize transparently sharing information about their environmental, social, and economic efforts, ensuring they focus on substantiated claims rather than making assertions they cannot support. 

Genuine efforts, when communicated effectively, not only enhance consumer trust but also inspire active participation. Brands that embrace authenticity in their sustainability initiatives and openly communicate their progress are not only meeting consumer expectations but also shaping a brighter, more sustainable future. As consumer awareness grows, these efforts have the potential to drive widespread change and foster a society where sustainability is not just a buzzword but a collective commitment to betterment.

 

Greenwatching Philippines - Carla Moreno


Moreover, embracing authentic sustainability practices goes beyond mere consumer trust in the Philippines – it contributes significantly to a brand’s long-term viability and resilience. In an era where corporate social responsibility is under intense scrutiny, brands with genuine initiatives do not just survive; they thrive.

 

Employing greenwatching strategies for authentic sustainability in the Philippines

Effective sustainability communication is difficult — but essential. Between the liability of greenwashing and the temptation of staying silent on the topic, brands often find themselves standing at a crossroads. We listed some strategies for effective communication, aiming to equip brands and marketing professionals with the tools to bridge the gap between intention and action, and transform aspirations into tangible, positive outcomes for a greener future. 

Greenwatching in the Philippines

Set achievable goals 

One way to avoid the appearance of greenwashing is to choose sustainability goals that match your capabilities and ambitions. Here are a few ways to do so: 

  • Set measurable and relevant targets such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, plastic waste, or energy usage alongside social metrics. Such targets should come with clear steps to reach them. 
  • Communicate with simple, focused data points. Thick reports are good for diligence consultants, but most other stakeholders will not be able to digest uncontextualized, aggregated data. Select, organize, and prioritize salient science-based talking points to optimize the impact of your communication. Connect each project or action to specific targets and explain the relevance of those targets to the company’s business model. 
  • Incorporate sustainability metrics into performance evaluations. This will align the interests of executives with the company’s sustainability goals and ensure that they are held accountable for their performance. Major companies that have initiated such policies include Nike, Unilever, Ikea, Danone, and Vodafone. 
  • Turn leaders into advocates. Once sustainability metrics are incorporated into an executive’s career path, maximize their impact by engaging them in PR and thought leadership opportunities such as participation in industry panels and written or video content in trade media that shares their insights and expertise. 

Strategize internal change 

Companies often go through intensive operational transitions to comply with sustainable standards of business (e.g., B Corp, Fairtrade, LEED, Organic, Rainforest Alliance). These changes require sincere commitment, diligent planning, strong governance, and expert management. 

Frameworks of sustainable standards such as B Corp provide a roadmap for evolution, but doing so requires diverting efforts from profit-seeking, at least temporarily. Focusing on assessment, areas of improvement, and leadership engagement allows those efforts to be fast-tracked. 

Communicate with internal stakeholders 

Sustainability is probably on your employees’ minds, too. Empower them to participate by creating an internal communication and action framework that reflects the desired outcome. 

  • Educate employees about the areas where the company can make an impact. 
  • Inform & explain with clear, relatable goals and milestones. 
  • Engage employees with culturally relevant activities, measure their impact, and share it with everyone involved. 

Promote a sustainable ecosystem 

  • Adopt sustainable procurement practices to ensure you are purchasing goods and services that are produced in a sustainable manner. Transparency and sharing go a long way. 
  • Build Industries via cross-promotion. To accelerate the adoption of sustainable practices along the value chain, credit and promote the vendors who enable your sustainable operations. For example, sustainable a furniture brand can co-brand its marketing efforts with its fabric vendor when the latter has significant credentials and brand equity. 
  • Compete with products and services; converge with sustainable practices. 
  • Campaign and advocate. Partnerships do not just provide opportunities for employee engagement — they can also align strategically with your business objectives. 
  • Focus on societal issues that relate to your business and pay it forward by creating opportunities for future business through causes (e.g., promoting education sell books, women empowerment improves business performance, access to water reduces inequality and bringing more people into the economy.) 

Measure your impact — and report it 

  • Use third-party verification to receive a trustworthy endorsement that your sustainability claims are accurate, and your sustainability efforts are authentic. This can include certifications such as B Corp or independent audits like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards. 
  • Tailor your reporting and communication with company-specific highlights. Each company has a unique journey to becoming a sustainable business, so you should develop a singular narrative that weaves through both your corporate and consumer communications. 
  • Provide consumers with transparency regarding specific value points. 
  • Present stakeholders with stories of product development as an alternative to the traditional products and benefits pillars. 
  • Report successes, limitations, and failures with equal candidness.

RESEARCHERS:

Rae Cay
Digital Account Manager, Philippines

Kim Donato
Digital Account Executive, Philippines

Ronagella Gesultura
Associate Creative Director, Philippines and ASEAN

Charmaine de Lazo
Editor, ASEAN

Bernadette Torres
Writer, Philippines

 

The Greenwatching bot now! Or talk with our communication consultants to learn more about authentic sustainability communications through green-watching@vero-asean.com.

You can start your own “greenwatching” through Vero’s Greenwatcher AI bot. It is trained with this playbook and capable of identifying biases and instances related to the 7 sins of greenwashing and conveniently test communication materials. To use the bot, please sign up here.

 

Last year, Vero took the Clean Creatives pledge to refuse contracts with fossil fuel companies, which have become notorious as some of the world’s biggest greenwashers. This wasn’t just a symbolic gesture for us — it represented a clarification of purpose that pushed us to question how we approach our communications practice in general. In doing so, we took a look at our own biases as communicators and found plenty of potential for greenwashing.

According to Joel Makower of Greenbiz Group, some common tropes of the communications industry lead to greenwashing. He names the following:

Making bold commitments; Telling a great story; Using superlatives; Ignoring the critics; Engaging employees; Promoting, promoting, promoting; Using science; Not going alone; Being creative; Planting trees; Thinking local; Being relentless

None of these are bad things, but they’ve become cliches that are easily invoked to distract from an organization’s main operations. Seeking a path of greater candor, we searched for ways to recognize imminent greenwashing and nip it in the bud. We’re calling this approach “greenwatching,” both because it makes intuitive sense and because, like most marketers, we’re fans of catchy wordplay. Like all ESG initiatives, it’s an imperfect and ongoing effort, but it embodies a principle we advocate for anyone promoting sustainability, environmental or otherwise: candor to the point of vulnerability.

Too much of corporate communication focuses on crafting an idealized image that disguises the imperfect realities of doing business in the modern world. We hope to push back against that tendency, at least in this realm where lack of transparency poses a quite literal threat to the world we all share. In doing so, we want to invite our fellow businesses and communicators to explore and adapt this approach to suit their needs.

In the spirit of greenwatching, this playbook offers more of a conceptual framework than a guide to every potential conundrum regarding sustainability communications. However, we’ve included enough practical suggestions that we hope it can serve jointly as a statement of purpose, a useful introduction, and a handy reference for those who share our path.

The environmental crisis in Southeast Asia is urgent and unprecedented

Southeast Asia is one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing regions in the world, but it is also one of the most exposed to the consequences of climate change.

The natural environment that Southeast Asian civilizations have been organized around for centuries is under threat. Tropical storms and flooding are becoming more intense. Unpredictable seasons and excessive heat are lowering crop yields. Rising sea levels are damaging rice fields and swallowing coastlines. ​Plastic pollution is turning beautiful beaches and waterways into symbols of environmental negligence.

Southeast Asia has not historically been a primary contributor to climate change, but its impact is growing with rising incomes and industrialization. It’s worth reducing this impact as much as possible, but it will also become necessary for Southeast Asian societies to adapt to the changes that climate change will bring. For multinational and local brands operating in Southeast Asia, the need to take action that supports a sustainable future for the region’s people and natural environment is more urgent than ever.

The third wave of sustainability efforts

Many global brands have invested in sustainability, for decades in some cases, but they’ve done so for different reasons. The first wave was largely motivated by reputation at stake, while the second wave was motivated by the desire to avoid legal and economic consequences.

But a third wave has begun, and this one is about necessity.

What’s the emergency?

Consumers in Asia are concerned about sustainability — but they’re unsure what it looks like

Responsibility

According to a study by Kantar (2021), 63% of Asians don’t feel sustainability is their responsibility, but rather that it is up to governments and other organizations. A 2022 survey by Bain & Company concurs, showing that majorities throughout Asia-Pacific place the primary responsibility for helping consumers shop for sustainable products on brands (24-40%) and/or governments (26-40%).

Personal safety

However, in the Kantar study 58% of Asian consumers said they have been personally affected by environmental issues, and that they are most concerned about the specific issues of water pollution, air pollution, and extreme weather events.

Choice of Products

According to Bain & Company, 90% of consumers in Asia say they are willing to spend more on products that are healthier or have a positive environmental impact. Meanwhile, Kantar tells us that 53% of people in Asia have stopped buying products and services that have a negative impact on the environment and society. This indicates there is a large and ever-growing audience to capture — the Bain study points out that 45% of Asia-Pacific’s environmentally, socially, and/or health-conscious consumers shifted their priorities towards sustainability within the past two years.

However, the Bain study also identifies a “say-do gap,” in which consumers rank sustainability as a high priority but in fact rarely buy sustainable products. The study finds several explanations for this, including “a lack of information, a distrust of brand claims, a lack of variety in products, and gaps in availability”. Price, however, seems to be a relatively insignificant factor, indicating that the market is still young and brands’ energy would be better spent on better communication and availability than cost-cutting. Bain notes that young brands which are built around sustainable business models are “leading the way”, while more established brands play catch-up.

According to a study by iStock, recycling is still considered the most prominent way for consumers to make a positive impact on the planet (65%), followed by reusing, repairing, buying second-hand, using eco-friendly products, and making their homes energy-efficient (40%). The lowest interest is in stopping the use of single-use products and making transport choices that reduce use gasoline/petrol/diesel (35%). However, recycling is arguably the least impactful of these methods and the one that requires the least lifestyle change, which indicates that either consumers misunderstand sustainability or they’re not eager to sacrifice convenience for its sake. Thus, brands that can make their sustainable products both easy to understand and convenient to acquire and use stand to reap rewards.

Effective Sustainability Communication is difficult — but essential

The field of sustainability communications has grown rapidly in recent years as companies recognize the importance of addressing environmental and social issues. However, many businesses and organizations still struggle to effectively communicate their sustainability efforts and achievements. This is partly due to the complexity of sustainability issues, and partly because they are not sure how to do so in ways that are transparent, credible, and authentic.

One of the biggest challenges faced by companies is ensuring the authenticity of their sustainability efforts. Even with the growth of ESG investing (accounting for 37.8 trillion USD of assets under management in 2022 according to Bloomberg), it has become increasingly difficult for companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors and for stakeholders to trust their sustainability claims. For this reason, authenticity is becoming increasingly important in sustainability communications. Between the liability of greenwashing and the temptation of staying silent on the topic, some companies are looking for a fresh take on sustainability communications.

The Green Hush

Fear of backlash makes some companies less eager to communicate about their sustainability efforts. According to an article by Eco-Business:

“The negative impact from the threat of accusations of greenwashing can increase the risk of inaction among companies already lacking in confidence when it comes to communicating their sustainability efforts.”

But companies may also fear failure and the resulting scrutiny. From that same article:

“One in three (29%) of all the companies we surveyed said that delivering their net-zero target has been ‘more difficult than expected’ over the past year.”

The Trouble with Greenwashing (and the importance of greenwatching)

Greenwashing is a growing problem that is undermining the authenticity of sustainability efforts. It occurs when a company makes false or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of its products or services or deliberately downplays the environmental impact of its business model.

Earlier this year, the second annual sustainability survey by The Harris Poll found that 59% of executives across 16 countries reported overstating or inaccurately representing their sustainability activities, though many claimed this was accidental.

Greenwashing can take many forms, and the issue has been framed using 7 pillars over the past decade.

Whether or not companies are making ESG commitments or receiving ESG investment, greenwashing is an issue in communications that can be deliberate or unintended. However, more brands are being scrutinized and held accountable for their claims than in the past, so they should be conscious of whether the narratives they promote genuinely reflect their practices.

For this reason, we advocate what we call “greenwatching”: the practice of staying vigilant about whether our communication efforts around environmental sustainability align with the realities of our business practices.

The 7 sins of Greenwashing

The Canadian environmental marketing agency TerraChoice made this list in 2006 by comparing claims made by thousands of brands and products with the reality of their practices. The seventh sin (Worshipping False Labels) was added in the second edition. It has since been used as a guideline by brands and marketers around the world.

No Proof: lack of evidence to back up claims

Vagueness: using generic language that can be easily misconstrued

Worshipping False Labels: use of first-party labels

Irrelevance: claims that are out of date or out of context in a competitive landscape

Hidden Trade-Off: focusing on communicating one positive impact, while failing to communicate associated negative impacts

Lesser of Two Evils: claims benchmarking a harmful product with “worse” products, diminishing its negative impact

Fibbing: straight-up false claims

Employing Greenwatching Strategies for Authentic Sustainability

The impact of greenwashing is far-reaching. The rise of eco-activism and the liability placed on companies caught greenwashing undermines the public’s trust in companies in general, making it more difficult for those engaged in genuine sustainability efforts to differentiate themselves. It also undermines the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives, as stakeholders have difficulty determining which companies are truly committed to sustainability.

Revisiting the sustainability journey with a greenwatching mindset can help you to overcome the green hush. By setting goals, engaging with stakeholders, and reporting with authenticity, you can strengthen your company’s reputation and gain positive engagement from consumers and stakeholders alike.

In doing so, we should keep in mind that sustainability is a moving target: a constantly evolving process of improvement. Companies who are working to be more sustainable should also communicate that reality, including times you fall short of your goals or ideals — and how you plan to improve.

Set Achievable Goals

One way to avoid the appearance of greenwashing is to choose sustainability goals that match your capabilities and ambitions. Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Set measurable and relevant targets such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, plastic waste, or energy usage alongside social metrics. Such targets should come with clear steps to reach them.
  • Communicate with simple, focused data points.Thick reports are good for diligence consultants, but most other stakeholders won’t be able to digest uncontextualized, aggregated data. Select, organize, and prioritize salient science-based talking points to optimize the impact of your communication. Connect each project or action to specific targets and explain the relevance of those targets to the company’s business model.
  • Do your best to avoid cancelled or delayed timelines like these fashion brands that reset their Net-Zero commitments.
  • Incorporate sustainability metrics into performance evaluations.  This will align the interests of executives with the company’s sustainability goals and ensure that they are held accountable for its performance. Major companies that have initiated such policies include Nike, Unilever, Ikea, Danone, and Vodafone.

Turn leaders into advocates.Once sustainability metrics are incorporated in an executive’s career path, maximize their impact by engaging them in PR and thought leadership opportunities such as participation in industry panels and written or video content in trade media that shares their insights and expertise.

Strategize internal change

Companies often go through intensive operational transitions to comply with sustainable standards of business (e.g., B Corp, Fairtrade, LEED, Organic, Rainforest Alliance). These changes require sincere commitment, diligent planning, strong governance, and expert management.

Frameworks of sustainable standards such as B Corp provide a roadmap for evolution, but doing so requires diverting efforts from profit-seeking, at least temporarily. Focusing on assessment, areas of improvement, and leadership engagement allow those efforts to be fast-tracked.

Communicate with internal stakeholders

Sustainability is probably on your employees’ minds too. Empower them to participate by creating an internal communication and action framework that reflects the desired outcome.

  • Educate employees about the areas where the company can make an impact.
  • Inform & explain with clear, relatable goals and milestones.
  • Engage employees with culturally relevant activities, measure their impact, and share it with everyone involved.

Promote a sustainable ecosystem

  • Adopt sustainable procurement practices to ensure you are purchasing goods and services that are produced in a sustainable manner. Transparency and sharing go a long way.
  • Build Industries via cross-promotion. To accelerate the adoption of sustainable practices along the value chain, credit and promote the vendors who enable your sustainable operations. For example, sustainable a furniture brand can co-brand their marketing efforts with their fabric vendor when the latter has significant credentials and brand equity.
  • Compete with products and services; converge with sustainable practices.
  • Campaign and advocate.Partnerships don’t just provide opportunities for employee engagement — they can also align strategically with your business objectives.
  • Focus on societal issues that relate to your business, and pay it forward by creating opportunities for future business through causes (e.g., promoting education sells books, women’s empowerment improves business performance, access to water reduces inequality and brings more people into the economy.)

Measure Your Impact — and Report It

  • Use third-party verificationto receive trustworthy endorsement that your sustainability claims are accurate and your sustainability efforts are authentic. This can include certifications such as B Corp or independent audits like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards.
  • Tailor your reporting and communication with company-specific highlights.Each company has a unique journey to becoming a sustainable business, so you should develop a singular narrative that weaves through both your corporate and consumer communications.
  • Provide consumers with transparency regarding specific value points.
  • Present stakeholders with stories of product development as an alternative to the traditional products and benefits pillars.
  • Report successes, limitations, and failures with equal candidness.

Veja: A Case Study

 

 

The French sneaker brand Veja takes authentic sustainability communications to a level that may seem radically vulnerable, but which has proven remarkably popular among their fans. They share both their impressive standards for environmental and social sustainability and the limitations and shortcomings of their business model. In this way, they gain their audience’s trust and clarify their path to sustainability.

Greenwatching : Checking communication materials for the 7 sins of greenwashing. (0 means no sinning, 1 means partial sinning, 3 means clear sinning)

No Proof : 0

Vagueness : 0

Worshipping False Labels : 0

Irrelevance : 0

Hidden Trade-Off : 1

Lesser of Two Evils : 3

Fibbing : 0

Where does your company stand regarding Sustainability Communications?

To start a conversation with our communication consultants, contact us at green-watching@vero-asean.com