Why is Sustainability Communications Important?

Sustainability communications is an increasingly important part of the overall comms strategy for many organisations but how can we break down what we mean by sustainability communications to ensure that our efforts have maximum impact?

Children Protesting
Sustainability Communications

Why do we communicate at all?

Let’s start with ‘communication’ and why it is an intregral part of day-to-day operations for every organisation.

Organisations communicate with their employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders for a variety of reasons but at the heart of most communication is the need to build trust.

  • Trust that you are working for the right company
  • Trust that we have the right strategy
  • Trust the leadership will make the right decision
  • Trust that we will serve you to the best of our ability
  • Trust that our products are the right ones for you
  • Trust that we will pay you if you work with us
  • Trust that our growth will help your business too
  • Trust that we will work ethically
  • Trust that we will only have a positive social and environment impact

We build the trust by regularly communicating messages with objectives to inform, educate, inspire, or motivate.


Sustainability is the point at which the activity of the organisation is sustainable, which until fairly recently was limited to financial sustainability. This meant that the focus was customer, profit, and cost certainty of inputs such as raw materials. The organisation was thought of as an island, only responsible for its own survival.

Today, we think of organisations as part of an ecosystem or network of interdependencies that includes supply chains, the communities where the organisation works either directly or indirectly, and the lifecycle of whatever the organisation produces including all the waste material and energy required throughout the production process.

This is a completely new way of operating that means sustainability now covers social, environmental and financial factors. What’s more the impact of the organisation is not limited to direct operations but now considers how everyone in the supply also works.

It really is a significant shift that requires regular communication.

Plastic Bottles
Sustainability Communications

Sustainability Communications

The dates by which certain sustainability commitments need to be met is looming and there are a growing number of groups that are publicly holding organisations to account by reporting on progress, or lack of it.

Therefore, Sustainability Communications have the same over-arching objective – to build trust – but they also require stakeholders to change behaviour, which means the audience has to be motivated. It is simple change management – without motivation nothing changes. Fortunately, we know that we are more likely to be motivated by stories than facts and figures.

A study of the brain at Berkeley University found that ‘stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.’

What is more the same study found that visual stories were more engaging than text ‘at both sustaining attention and causing empathic transportation’.

We also know that positivity is a greater motivator than negativity. The University of Southampton carried out research into the impact of positive and negative journalism and concluded that ‘stories which were framed as catastrophes led to reduced motivation to take action on important issues. Stories that offered solutions inspired a greater motivation to take positive action’.

Stories about sustainability can also be stories that advocate for sustainability and this helps to propel the sustainability agenda and extend the reach of influence beyond the actions of the organisation itself.

  1. The story should be positive to motivate action
  2. The story should be image-led for greater attention and memorability
  3. The story should focus on action and impact to create empathy
  4. The story should include calls-to-action where required, encouraging the audience to contribute where they can
Tree planting
Sustainability Communications

It’s impossible to over communicate

Author of Leading Change, Professor John Kotter, has written that when it comes to change most leaders think they are communicating enough but they aren’t.

He states that the total amount of communication going to an employee over three months is the equivalent of 2.3 million words or numbers, which they receive through emails, memos, presentations, meetings and conferences.

A typical communication about the change over a period of three months that includes a 30 minute presentation, a 60 minute meeting, a 600 word article in a newsletter, and a 2,000 word memo is the equivalent of just 13,400 words or numbers.

That means that comms regarding change makes up less than 1% of all employee communication.

Think about it. How many emails do you get a day? How many calls/meetings do you attend? How many of the emails and meetings are about change? Or sustainability?

Knowing people who are responsible for sustainability communications inside organisations I doubt that any of them are even achieving as much as 1% of all communication and yet sustainability is probably the biggest shift to operations that most organisations have ever been faced with.

To discuss how we could work together to create image-led sustainability communications please get in touch.