Can You Explain Your ESG Strategy?

When I founded WeSpire, one of the statistics that convinced me to take the plunge was the intent to action gap. Simply explained, it’s the difference between what people say they want to do and those who actually do. It’s a marker of potential growth. A decade ago, the gap was sixty percentage points. Nearly 80% of people said they wanted to do something to live more sustainably. Only 20% had done something recently to do so.

The latest research shows a giant change in that number. The topline is about the same. Close to 80% want to do something to be more sustainable. However 48% now say that in the last 30 days they have not only done something, but they have intentionally bought a product or service based on the social and environmental attributes of that brand relative to the competitor (a higher bar for action). In other words, half of all people are now actively making purchasing choices based on a company’s ESG strategy (or at least how they perceive that company’s ESG performance).

That same research asked senior executives whether they were ready to explain their company’s ESG strategy to consumers. 62% said they are not ready. Only 13% say they are very ready. 

So your customers actively care about ESG right now. And your company’s executive team likely doesn’t feel ready to talk to them. Which means employees are even less prepared. That’s not a recipe for success.

Here are three ways to address this gap:

First, a reminder that your executive leaders are employees too, just with more power and authority. Thus when building your ESG strategy, include a strong employee engagement component with a dedicated track for your executives and managers. With WeSpire, ESG programs can be targeted based on employee attributes, including level in the organization, to allow for greater personalization and engagement.

Second, adults learn by doing. While trainings, lunch and learns, and conferences can be a foundational element for any engagement strategy, you need to get people actively taking action. As an example, many companies are doing implicit bias training. It’s a good start. But WeSpire offers activation programs like an implicit bias scavenger hunt that asks people to truly examine their environment and find things that signal that bias. It’s both inspiring and sobering to see what people find. That’s activating applied learning — and often as a result, it drives deeper cultural change. If you want people to be prepared to talk about your plans and the impact of those strategies, get them involved and actively taking actions aligned with those plans.

Finally, you may design a great ESG strategy, but without strong, regular communications, you will not reap the majority of the benefits. Which is why two of the most important executives to engage in ESG are your communications leaders – CMO for external and VP Corporate Communications for internal. This week saw the launch of a CMO Accelerator for Sustainability bringing together the ANA, Adweek and Sustainable Brands to unify and accelerate efforts to help CMOs maximize impact. Given employees can be your most powerful brand ambassadors, we would love to see a similar effort for internal comms leaders.

The age of ESG is upon us. Consumers care. Investors care. Employees care. But for far too long, ESG knowledge remained concentrated in the dedicated functional teams producing the strategies and reports. Those teams will remain the deep experts and catalysts, but everyone in the company needs to be able to contribute to, and communicate about, the core tenets of the plan and the progress.

Quote of the Week:  “The hardest part about directing is getting everyone on the same page.”

Rob Marshall

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