Sustainability communication – more than words

Adam Bergsveen, sustainability consultant and has worked with communication and sustainability for the past 25 years in business, civil society and politics – shares his thoughts on sustainability communication.

To ensure long-term profitability, companies today must work with sustainable business development. An important part of this, which is often overlooked, is sustainability communication.

Sustainability communication is not an afterthought – it is a central part of a modern business, especially in light of stricter EU legislation such as the Green Deal and the proposed Green Claims Directive. Both of these laws basically aim to combat increasing greenwashing and require companies’ environmental claims to be scientifically based and verifiable. Considering that a survey from Novus shows that 53% of Swedes believe that companies are misleading in their environmental claims, it can be concluded that change and legislation are needed.

So how can you communicate sustainability work without ending up in greenwashing? Effective sustainability communication is not only informative, but also a central part of a company’s business development and branding. To be credible, sustainability communication must also be deeply rooted in a company’s strategy and demonstrate a genuine commitment to sustainability issues. Empty words are not enough, but companies must be able to demonstrate concrete actions and results.

For example, the clothing companies ASKET and Houdini show engaging and educational ways to communicate sustainability. ASKET’s “impact receipts” and Houdini’s #LiveLargeWithLess campaign in different ways highlight the environmental responsibility of both companies in a concrete and business-like manner.

Successful sustainability communication can be summarized in five key components:

Transparency: It is important that companies are open and honest in their sustainability communication. That includes sharing both successes and challenges. One way to achieve that is to publish annual sustainability reports that are accessible and understandable to all stakeholders.

Pedagogy: By educating and engaging the board, employees, customers and partners in sustainability issues, a culture characterized by responsibility and innovation is created. This requires long-term work and commitment.

Storytelling: Effective storytelling can bring sustainability work to life and make it more engaging.

The Harvard Business Review describes how this is done well:

“When your organization needs to make a big change, stories will help you convey not only why it needs to transform but also what the future will look like in specific, vivid terms. /…/ There are four key steps: Understand your story so well that you can describe it in simple terms; honor the past; articulate a mandate for change; and lay out a rigorous and optimistic path forward. Let’s explore each of them in turn.”

Integration: Sustainability communication must be an integral part of the company’s business strategies and models. It is also important to intertwine sustainability communication with other forms of communication such as market communication, internal communication and employer branding.

More than words: It is crucial that the company not only communicates its sustainability goals and strategies, but also continuously shows concrete results.

In summary, sustainable business development and sustainability communication are dynamic processes that require continuous updating and adaptation to the world’s changes. By adopting a transparent, educational and narrative approach, companies can not only meet legal requirements but also build strong brands and create long-term relationships with their customers and other stakeholders. There is thus much to be gained, on several levels, by avoiding sustainability communication ending up in the shadows.

/ Adam Bergsveen, senior sustainability consultant



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