Much of the attention for sustainability is focused on the big companies, who need a lot of time to turn their vessel around but also have the space to do so. For smaller firms, it’s just as important, but without the resources. So what should you do to communicate your green ideas?
If you are a small business owner, you might think that communicating effectively about sustainability is a game where only the enterprise need apply – if that sounds like you, it’s time to think again.
It’s undeniable that a significant proportion of the media lens is focused on the biggest brands. There are many obvious reasons for this, from economic to societal. The good news is the spotlight is having an effect. According to KPMG, 96% of the world’s 250 biggest companies (G250) report on sustainability or ESG matters to some degree. Yet, sustainability must be an important issue for everyone, whether you’re in the Forbes 500 or just starting out.
The answer to why small business owners and SMEs would see sustainability as less of a priority can be found in a 2019 paper from Climate Outreach, a non-profit organisation of social scientists and communications specialists. In short: they’re too busy looking after number one. Progressive ideals count for very little if your business is not profitable. “Businesses are there to make money, not save the planet,” as one low carbon advisor put it.
But this argument is becoming increasingly outdated. Climate Outreach, in partnership with the Open University, instituted a project called Growing Greener to help SME intermediaries understand the importance of the environment through values, rather than money. Holistic approaches and humanity are in; disinterest and distant targets are out. Security is a good example where talking more about business security from the perspective of the planet than your profit line may be necessary. Nearly two thirds (64%) of the G250 in the KPMG study acknowledge climate change as a risk to their business.
So if you’re a small business owner, what attributes should you lead your company storytelling with? Rin Hamburgh, founder and creative director of brand copywriting agency RH&Co, agrees honesty and humility are key values which need to be stressed – but you also need to walk the walk.
“You can’t just say you’re sustainable,” Hamburgh tells Sustainable Future News. “You have to have some things that you can genuinely point to; some data, some activities you’re doing, whatever it is. They can be small – that’s absolutely fine. Do be humble about it, though be realistic.”
Hamburgh is able to look at this angle from both sides, not just as a provider of content services, but as a small business owner herself. When it comes to B Corp accreditation – of which RH&Co is proudly certified – the small things really do count. One example Hamburgh gives of her company’s B Corp journey is through recycling. The company had always recycled, but now there is a metric in place to assess the proportion of landfill versus recycled.
With recertification every three years, a B Corp requires continual progress. “For me, that was a key motivator,” says Hamburgh. “We knew in our hearts that we were doing ok; what we wanted was for somebody else to assess just how good that was, and then we can try and improve, because it’s really hard to improve if you don’t know what you’re improving from.”
Larger companies can put big resources into tracking brand awareness through surveys, attributes, and associations. Yet smaller firms aren’t quite so privileged. Hamburgh agrees that difficult as it may be, small business owners need to get out of what she calls an ‘obsession with measuring return on investment’ (ROI). “It can’t be about a bottom-line result every single time,” she says. “Sometimes, it just has to be the right thing to do.”
ROI is often what brings content and marketing teams into conflict. While content and marketing can be intertwined to good effect, Hamburgh sounds a note of caution about sustainability being a marketing-led exercise. “I think one of the biggest problems is that, especially in smaller companies, often sustainability is initially led by marketing, because it’s very much seen as a marketing tool. And that is not a very helpful way to see sustainability,” she explains.
“CSR has always been like this – how do you get that balance between actually having that corporate social responsibility and doing the right thing? Yes it should have a marketing effect, but if you go for the marketing effect first, it can start feeling very fake very quickly.”
Hamburgh says that truth is the ‘best and most convincing writing’ – and again, it leads into authenticity and humility. “People try and overcomplicate things, or they start using work words like ‘strategic’ and ‘autonomous’. Keep it simple and say what you mean. Don’t say you’re the best – say you really care about [something]. And then make sure you can back that up.”
Even if you do really care, and you’re authentic and humble to a fault, Hamburgh points out that businesses cannot hang their hats on sustainability alone. “With ESG, I think the biggest problem we see is people trying to make that the differentiator,” she says. “It’s an extra. You can’t be like ‘we’re green so buy our product.’
“We’re a sustainable values-led agency. But clients first want to know what we can do for them. We can help you build your brand authority, we can help you clarify your message – that’s what people are buying from us,” adds Hamburgh. “Yes, [customers] want us to have values, but they also need to get us to get a job done.”
And if all else fails, the long arm of the law might do the trick. “It’s getting to the point where certain reporting is going to be a legal requirement,” says Hamburgh. “It’s definitely going that way.” But there is a broader picture to consider as well. “Take how we’re tracking how many bags of waste we put in recycling versus landfill,” Hamburgh adds. “It’s a teeny tiny thing, and it might seem on the scale of things nothing, but actually it is something, and also [it makes us] think more, so we’re thinking more at home, and that affects our children. So small, grassroots actions are really important.”
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?