Companies are discovering the benefits of finding their voice and making deep connections with stakeholders through sustainability communications

The days when companies would release their large annual corporate sustainability reports and move on are gone. Simply churning out targets and achievements won’t suffice. Businesses are now also expected to communicate about sustainability efforts and actions in ways that strengthen and build their corporate brands. Add to this consumers’ crumbling trust in corporations, and it’s enough to lead a sustainability professional to despair.

Despair, however, is not an option when sustainability is a key tool companies can use to futureproof themselves, and when finding compelling ways to talk about their efforts is the main strategy to get people to know about and connect to brands.

Penn State University professor and communications expert Lee Ahern has reviewed the past 30 years of sustainability messaging by companies, including both advertising and corporate social responsibility communications. The trend, he says, is a move from purely informational sustainability communications to messaging that is ever more nuanced, more “associational”, as he puts it, and more emotional.

“Emotional messaging is increasing, and this is part of the evolution of brands and the evolution of CSR,” Ahern says. “Companies are looking for better ways to make deeper connections with their stakeholders.”

He cautions that there is no one-size-fits-all...

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