Sustainability — no longer just a feel-good buzzword

by Emily Wood, Director Organisational and Change Communication

Published on
October 10, 2019

Having a focus on sustainability is no longer an activity taken up exclusively by socially conscious or high-profile businesses. It is increasingly a consumer, employee and shareholder expectation of all businesses — one that influences both perceptions and actions.

You only need to cast your mind back to 2018 when a groundswell of consumer protest strongarmed Australian retailers into phasing out single-use plastic bags.

Real actions are gaining traction. So, what can you do to ensure you are not left behind?

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint for achieving a more sustainable future. Addressing the most pressing challenges — poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace, justice — they guide best-practice development models and the integration of sustainability reporting across public and private sectors. The UN goals are a great foundation for an organisation embarking on a sustainability journey and thinking about how best to communicate non-financial objectives and achievements in a meaningful and transparent way.

Above all, sustainability communication must be genuine. Consumers, employees and shareholders all have increasing expectations on social and environmental commitments.

Integrating sustainability into corporate positioning — for team members and external stakeholders — will pay dividends for trust and engagement, and if done well, will add to financial outcomes in line with brand success.

We do not need to look far to find examples of Australian businesses committing to the cause, and we are excited to see how allegiances to a more sustainable future will unfold and how sustainability stories will be shared. Examples include:

  • Australia’s largest coal miner Glencore is capping its global coal output as part of its shift towards minerals used in renewable technologies
  • Australia Post is transitioning its shipping satchels to use 80 per cent recycled plastic as part of its corporate responsibility plan
  • Tech company Atlassian is among a group of national and international organisations encouraging its workforce to participate in global climate strikes, and made a high-profile commitment to a target of net zero emissions by no later than 2050 at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in September this year.

Additionally, organisations such as Climate Action 100+ — an initiative of 370-plus investors with more than $35 trillion in assets — are leveraging investment power to engage with companies to curb emissions, improve governance and strengthen climate-related financial disclosures.    

Sustainability, corporate social responsibility, circular economy and total societal impact are all hot topics in trend-setting boardrooms, around executive tables, and in shareholder meetings across the nation and globally. But telling the story successfully is still an emerging discipline.

Is it time to think about how your organisation integrates your sustainability story into communication planning?