According to a recent survey from IBM and the National Retail Federation, 80% of consumers indicated sustainability is important to them and 57% indicated they are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impacts.

Companies are making strides in environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives, but many struggle with how to share their efforts in an authentic and relatable way. Yet, if you’re not talking about the innovative steps your company is taking and the progress you might be making against established goals, you're losing an opportunity to build awareness, understanding and ultimately credibility with your employees, customers and investors.

In many cases, ESG reports are non-optional as certain investors require them to be completed based on standards set forth by certifying organizations like The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). But how do you translate ESG programs that are important to your company and business into stories that educate and engage your audiences?

We’ve partnered with several clients to create and deploy effective ESG storytelling initiatives. Here are six guiding principles to get you started:  

  1. Have a plan: To be proactive (and ultimately successful) in your ESG storytelling, you need a roadmap. Create a plan with clear and measurable objectives tied to ESG pillars and company goals. Next, identify your stakeholders and determine which strategies you’ll use to reach them at the right time, in the right order, with the right messages. This is where you’ll plot out what you intend to launch, achieve, accomplish or complete and in what timeframe. Lastly, decide how you will measure performance (e.g., Did you change perceptions?).
  2. Be consistent: ESG messaging should be incorporated across all communications channels, from your website to the internal messages employees are receiving to leadership talking points for public or investor engagements.
  3. Back it up: Include compelling data and statistics as proof points, which makes for smarter, more engaging, and trustworthy information shares. Break down numbers into everyday terms that consumers understand, into a format that is digestible and adapted to the communications channel. Infographics and video content can work well here.
  4. Activate supporters: Give employees the tools they need to help tell your story. Seek support from credible third parties to validate your actions. Lastly, empower your customers with information about what you’re doing, so they feel proud to do business with you and are willing to spread the word.
  5. Be transparent: While ESG storytelling is a valuable opportunity to proactively share positive company developments and contributions throughout the year, it’s also important to be open and transparent about any setbacks or challenges and how you intend to address them. Stakeholders might not expect perfection, but they do expect honesty.
  6. It’s a marathon, not a sprint: Most companies commit to an annual approach, distributing a lengthy annual ESG report. Instead of waiting for the report to recap the year, create ways to engage audiences and document your progress on sustainability year-round. Activate subject-matter experts in a thought leadership program to share ESG messaging in bylined articles, speaking engagements and other stakeholder interactions. Follow trends and new data and appropriately insert your work or perspective into the conversation.

ESG storytelling should be comprehensive and balanced, evenly accounting for the ‘E’, ‘S’ and ‘G,’ and can supplement – or even enhance – the annual reporting process.

If you’re looking to translate your ESG efforts into powerful stories that build trust, credibility and loyalty, we can help. ‍