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Communicating corporate sustainability in 2022: a sincere story to tell

ESG, carbon offset, zero emissions, climate positive, eco-friendly: are we being bombarded with 'green' jargon? Communicating corporate sustainability is and will continue to be a crucial topic for communities, businesses and individuals. But what is the fine line between effective sustainable communication and greenwashing? How can companies communicate sustainability beyond clichés and unsupported claims and truly engage with investors and stakeholders? 

Elisa Montanari, Markas' Communication Manager, shares her thoughts on the importance of sustainability towards economic growth and social wellbeing.  

Why is communicating sustainability so important?
We know that acting in a sustainable way is becoming more and more important for companies, not only because of the necessity to make more ethical choices, but also because consumers are increasingly demanding it. Doing business in a sustainable way means creating "shared value", investing in activities that can generate not only economic growth, but prosperity for our society and the environment. Therefore, sustainability is not an add-on. It is a fundamental element of business culture. 
However, the way in which corporate sustainability is communicated is equally important as it can differentiate a business and affect consumers 'choices or buying behaviors. "Sustainability" is an overused word, so now, more than ever, it is essential for companies to distinguish themselves, not only in terms of their business policies, but also in terms of how they communicate them. And that's the most important role of communication: creating clarity by conveying a key identity and values. When it comes to sustainability, being honest and sincere, sharing with your audience truthful facts and progress updates is much more important than 'screaming' "we are the best".  
corporate sustainability  - people working together
corporate sustainability  - plant

What is Markas doing from a 'sustainability' point of view?
For Markas, focusing on sustainability is not something new. We are a company made up of different stakeholders operating in very different environments, from our own employees to end users, from our suppliers to various communities in which we operate in Italy and beyond. So, over the years, we have launched a number of initiatives to actively demonstrate our commitment to environmental, social and economic sustainability. Yet, we know that this is just the beginning of a long journey. The first step was to set a goal that was itself sustainable for our organization: back in 2018, as part of our long-term strategy, we had specified that by 2030 we want to position ourselves as the industry leader when it comes to sustainability. 
The next step forward in that direction will be 'Markas' first Sustainability Report', which is going to be launched in 2023. Preparing for this ambitious goal has been a real turning point for the company and its approach to sustainability: it's less about on-the-spot projects and more about a structured strategy and  an open dialogue with all our stakeholders.

Which are the key steps in reporting sustainability?
Preparing a 'Sustainability Report' can be a very long and complex process. In our case, our primary task was putting together Markas' first Materiality Matrix. To do this, we interviewed a large number of internal and external stakeholders. This allowed us to identify 19 material themes, or priorities related to UN SDGs that we want to work on.
This process has allowed us to lay the foundations for the strategic direction of our company and to launch more sustainability-related projects. Also, it helped us acquire a clear and transparent reporting method when it comes to the 19 themes emerged from the Matrix of materiality and all the related projects.
All this work constitutes the basis of 'Markas' first Sustainability Report'. There is no doubt, it is a long process. But it is such an important project for all of us so we are all determined to tackle it by allocating the necessary time and effort.
corporate sustainability  - report
Which are the risks of communicating corporate sustainability?
Communicating a company's social and environmental commitment can be tricky. For example, the organization can be accused of greenwashing, excessive emphasis, opacity or even inconsistency.
Greenwashing is one of the biggest dangers: in a world where everyone is talking about sustainability, it is important to understand who is serious about it and who is doing nothing but selling themselves as an eco-friendly business. 
Overemphasis occurs when people or businesses overplay their actions, while in reality they are only meeting the minimum legal requirements.  
Opacity can also be a risk, as sometimes companies can lack transparency and the process scope is unclear.  
Another challenge that businesses and communication professionals might face is inconsistency. Companies need to be consistent with what they do and what they say they do.  

What are the key advantages of successful sustainability communication? 
There are several positive aspects when we speak about efficient corporate sustainability communication. 
As briefly mentioned above, communicating sustainability in an honest manner can help a brand differentiate itself. The more companies communicate sustainability, the less distinctive the effect will be. For those who take it seriously and are also able to communicate it effectively, doing business sustainably is and will be a strong distinguishing feature. 
Trust is an equally positive and important aspect. Stakeholder relationships can be strengthened by the way sustainability is communicated. By reporting sustainability in a transparent and honest way, even when admitting mistakes or critical issues, businesses can grow their credibility.
Then, companies should not ignore the power of relationships.  For example, employees are the most influential and credible ambassadors regarding corporate issues while improving relationships with internal and external stakeholders allows the company to improve its overall positioning.
Last but not least, communication on its own is not enough: employers need to engage staff, key players and the public. Communicating sustainability effectively stimulates involvement and engagement not only internally but also outside the company. Getting everyone actively involved is a key ingredient for a successful sustainability strategy.