How do businesses talk about going green?

There is increasing pressure on businesses to set out their strategy for going green. Aside from having a moral imperative to mitigate climate impact, businesses face increasing scrutiny from investors, clients and customers.

Crowd of people and a woman is holding a cardboard sign which says Planet over Profit.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This is coupled with increased scrutiny from the government, which is introducing a number of measures to stop greenwashing – inflating green credentials.

For the second episode of It’s A B2B Comms Thing, I joined comms specialists Ayo Abbas and Emma Drake for a LinkedIn Live to discuss how businesses talk about going green.

If you are interested in the full discussion, including all the questions from the audience, you can find it here on LinkedIn but what follows are some highlights.

Why do businesses need to communicate their sustainability strategy?

Emma Drake: First, if you’re doing something amazing, then you want to tell everybody about it. As consumers and buyers, we’re increasingly looking for connections to sustainable products and services.

I had a guest on my podcast last week who works with startup companies finding investment for them. She said there’s an increasing number of investors looking to invest in sustainble businesses.

The flip side is consumers and buyers are wary, so it’s important that we communicate all the details and facts of what we’re doing clearly.

Ayo Abbas: The government is forcing peoples hands; every company by 2023 will have to have detailed public plans about how they are going to reach net zero.

Sustainability strategy and sustainability overall, if it’s done well, will be a differentiator; if it’s done badly, it will damage your business.

Me: People are much more savvy about greenwashing, and there’s a lot of scepticism about what businesses are doing or not doing. So it’s increasingly important to talk about what you are doing and your strategy.

Where does open and transparent communications leave us as communicators?

Emma: Greenwashing, whether that’s intentional or unintentional, can lead to a lack of trust from a consumer and a supply chain point of view. It’s a reputation issue that will affect the bottom line eventually.

It’s not just about best practices and communications; it’s about making sure that what we’re selling and what we’re telling people we’re selling are aligned in the simplest terms.

Events are a big part of getting the message out there, and everyone can have a slightly different opinion about things. So it’s not just all digital communications that you can control a bit more; it’s making sure everyone is on message.

And having some checks and balances around the facts and figures, in particular, will be even more important so you can spot when something might not be quite right.

Ayo: We’ve got a duty of care as professionals, and we can’t just push out comms if they’re ambiguous or potentially untrue. The big challenge is pushing back and asking, ‘do you have more information?’ or ‘Is this actually true?’.

Asking those complex and difficult questions, especially for people starting in our sector, will be really hard to do.

A lot of what I’m doing when I work with major engineering firms is fact-checking. We write documents and then I have to go back and ask: ‘Have you got evidence from this?’, ‘Is that right?’, ‘Is that correct?’.

I can fact check with ten people for one piece of comms, so that’s the level of scrutiny, and that’s what we’re all going to have to do is make sure what we’re putting out is factually correct.

Me: It comes back to the point about greenwashing and being able to demonstrate and back up what you’re saying and what you’re doing; show that you are making a genuine move to net zero.

It’s the same with any content – is there evidence to back up this point? It’s just even more important with stuff around climate change because people are savvy and will see through it if there isn’t robust evidence to support what you’re trying to say.

Screen shot from the LinkedIn Live recording on How to talk about going green showing Ayo Abbas, Stacey Meadwell and Emma Drake - all wearing headphones and smiling.
Ayo Abbas, Stacey Meadwell and Emma Drake discuss ‘How to talk about going green’

How can we make comms around sustainability simpler?

Ayo: We have to explain what we’re talking about because there are so many terms and so much confusion. You have to explain and make it as clear and simple as possible.

I also think you have to delve into it ask what does this mean for consumers? So what does it mean for the reader because people are starting to turn off from the green message?

We have to find a way to connect with people, and a lot of that is ‘what does it mean for you as a person?’, ‘What does it mean for you as a business?’. It’s drilling down so that people can ‘get’ why it matters.

Me: Somebody posted a glossary of climate-related terms on Linkedin. And I like to think that I’m fairly savvy because I write about a lot of this stuff, but there was quite a lot on there that wasn’t quite what I thought it meant.

It’s really important not to assume that you know, or that your audience knows, what you are talking about.

And as with any content, you need to understand and write for your particular audience and write in a language and a way that they understand clearly.

If you’re writing for your peers who have the same level of technical knowledge, then you can be a bit more technical. But if you’re not, don’t assume that people know what all these terms mean.

Clarity is so, so important in this.

Emma: There are a couple of things coming down the line that might help. We work in the built environment and construction, and there’s something called the Code for Construction Product Information for manufacturers.

The onus is on the manufacturers in terms of communicating that information. There are five acid tests, around the information: That it is going to be clear, accurate, up to date, accessible, and unambiguous.

Regardless of what sector you work in, that’s a really good set of principles to work to.

Part of our job is to make things simpler, to take this huge amount of information and make it accessible and into information people can act on, and it’s horribly hard.

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If you want to watch the full recording of How to talk about going green, which includes audiences questions about presenting technical details and positive narrative vs doom and gloom, you can find that to watch here.

Let me know your thoughts and experiences on how to talk about going green in the comments.

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