waterskiing squirrel

Eco-credibility must underpin communication strategy

Repositioning communications strategy to highlight your green credentials has never been more essential – or better timed.

As the climate crisis and the need to make a visible commitment to our sustainable future become ever more pressing, no business – no matter its size – can afford to stand still.

Business’ eco-credentials can no longer be tucked away as something to be dealt with under corporate social responsibility, a necessary task for the corporate affairs department but not really top of the boardroom agenda.

But a dramatic shift is happening – and quickly.

Climate crisis and the environment are now daily front-page news, and dominate television services and social media. Business ignores this change at its peril. Public opinion has been shifting for some time, but the recent publication of the UN’s landmark Climate Change Warning – a Red Alert on the state of global warming trends unequivocally places the blame on carbon emissions, human activity (and subsequent inactivity).

It is now time for business to show good faith and act. Time to put the green agenda front and centre – and not just by using a soothing shade of green on the covers of annual reports or corporate brochures.

It’s no longer enough to tack on sustainability and CSR as the equivalent of the water-skiing squirrel at the back of the news broadcast – the “And finally…”, feel good story at the end of a bleak (possibly boring) broadcast.

Businesses must fundamentally change their comms strategy to reflect commitment and dedication, not just lip-service. Failure to do so is a failure to acknowledge the change in public opinion and public perceptions. Customers are already moving to businesses that they see as more eco-friendly and sustainable, seeking out those that conform to their expectations and speak up about what they are doing to help reduce carbon footprints.

Take New Zealand based company All Birds as an exemplar of walking and talking a strong game in the dog-eat-dog sneaker and athletic-apparel market.

Established in 2016, All Birds was recently valued at approximately $1.7 billion. Given the company’s relative infancy, that is considerable growth, however that figure is still a fraction of Nike’s annual footwear revenue of more than $24 billion and Adidas’ $15 billion. But while AB isn’t exactly nipping at the heels of their big rivals – that does not mean that Nike, Adidas and others won’t be paying attention. $1.7 billion not in their coffers is $1.7 billion lost.

Perhaps more fundamentally important is that All Birds, on the face of it at least, does not appear to emulate its contemporaries in business terms. Their messaging is not focused on fashion or style (even though their products are clearly very attractive) it supersedes that.

Their shoes are made from sustainable materials such as Merino wool, plastic bottles and recycled cardboard. Customers are encouraged to buy a single pair of more ecologically friendly shoes, safe in the knowledge they can wear them for many years, reducing waste across the product’s entire life-cycle. Moreover, they sell their shoes as “the world’s most comfortable shoes, flats, and clothing made with natural materials.” According to All Birds, you can go for a run in total comfort with a clear conscience too. That is a pretty strong USP.

The very top of their website reads Men, Women, New Arrivals, Sustainability. Click on the link and their initiatives are front and centre. Reversing Climate Change, How We Operate, Carbon Footprint, Regenerative Agriculture, Renewable Materials, Carbon Offsets, Responsible Energy.

They aren’t messing around. Their Mission, Vision and Values are positioned front and centre and by taking a different standpoint to their rivals, their website is a call to arms. It doesn’t preach – it merely explains what is possible, and that customers DO have a choice.

It is a different approach, and there is an appetite for it. Customers are shifting their habits to follow them. The All Birds approach to communication feels more honest – or at least, more earnest.

In short, business is changing. It must change. And we all need to talk about what we are doing to make positive change. From a business standpoint, it is essential. Consumers are more and more aware of winners and sinners. Which companies subscribe to the UN’s Global Reporting Initiative on sustainability, or the UN’s principles on ethics, sustainability, and governance?

These are not new, now they are becoming the benchmarks by which stakeholders measure the reality of green commitments and performance. Cuddly CSR sections are history, like the water-skiing squirrels.