We don’t need to spend much time persuading you that a clear commitment to sustainability is essential for business success. Research has made this case in many ways, and one of our favorites is Bob Willard’s “seven bottom-line benefits of sustainability practices for business”:
- Increase revenue.
- Reduce energy expenses.
- Reduce waste expenses.
- Reduce materials and water expenses.
- Increase employee productivity.
- Reduce hiring and attrition expenses.
- Reduce strategic and operational risks.
We recommend checking out Bob Willard’s website for more information and data on the profit benefits of business sustainability.
What’s less well known is that sound communication and training are essential to effectively implement your sustainability and CSR projects. There are three main stakeholders with whom this plays out:
1. Employee communication. One little-known weakness in standard business sustainability practice is ineffective communication of these practices internally. Especially given that two of the main ROI benefits of CSR relate to employee productivity and retention: making sure your employees know all the good things you’re doing as a business is essential for effective ROI on your CSR investments. Yet the recent 2012 McKinsey Annual Survey highlights this weakness: “Companies are still not doing much to integrate sustainability into their internal communications or employee engagement.” When your employees know all the good things you are up to as a business, it increases their productivity and retention rates, which saves you money. That money can be reinvested into strengthening your CSR programs even more. It’s a win-win cycle.
Petco®, for example, has recently made a strategic commitment to offering a huge line of natural products in their stores. Because employee training and communication is our core competency, Petco hired SweetRush to help with these internal communications to ensure the success of this commitment. We have worked with them on employee-targeted communications for this project in three main areas: First, we’ve co-created communications directed at senior leadership to solidify the sound strategic reasoning for this shift in the product line. Second, we’ve worked with Petco on new-product training for in-store employees to learn about these new products they sell. Third, we have created general employee training materials with Petco, which highlight their social and environmental commitments, so all employees can understand and feel good about the company’s strong CSR commitments. These investments have supported the success of this new product line, the satisfaction of employees, and in turn, the viability of continued sustainability-focused strategy for the company.
2. Vendor communication. For companies that rely on external vendors to meet sustainability and ethical standards, this area is hugely important. We all saw how Apple® received a serious reputation blow for the exposure of unethical working conditions in their supplier Foxconn’s factories, which forced Apple to improve communication and training for suppliers on appropriate fair labor standards — with still mixed results.
One successful example of good vendor communication comes from Walmart®, a company with almost 100,000 material suppliers and a strong commitment to sustainability. Walmart understands the importance of green vendor practices for their own corporate sustainability, and in collaboration with competitors and The Sustainability Consortium, has been developing measuring and reporting standards for product sustainability. These standards apply to Walmart, its suppliers, and its suppliers’ suppliers — all the way down the supply chain to raw materials sourcing.
3. Customer communication. This important area is well-understood for any company engaged in sales, marketing, or PR. Businesses have long realized the importance of communicating with customers in such a way to encourage the purchasing of products and services. But more recently, businesses are recognizing that customers are drawn to make purchases — not just because of the quality, price, or sustainability of a product — but also for the quality and commitment to CSR of the company itself. Recent consumer surveys indicate that 40 percent of a company’s reputation with customers stems from its CSR practices and that more than half (55 percent) of customers would choose one brand over another based on the brand’s CSR practices.
Patagonia® offers an excellent example in this area. This company is one of the strongest leaders in environmental responsibility — both in its products and in its practices as a company. Patagonia is also quite vocal about communicating these values to its customers, through its Footprint Chronicles, blog and videos, and direct involvement in environmental campaigns. As a result, it has an incredibly loyal customer base and is able to charge premium prices for the material, as well as the ethical quality of its products.
Whether your company is B2B, B2C, or both, there are many ways you can strengthen the effectiveness of your sustainability endeavors by dedicating more attention to communication and training. As CSR becomes common practice, effective communication and integration of your CSR agenda become the differentiator between you and your competitors. And for us, this reality is such a win-win: We are training and communication experts with a passion for CSR and helping businesses do good things even better. There’s nothing we’d rather do than bring our skills to the table to help a company succeed with sustainability. Please call on us to help.
|Forbes Top 10 CSR trends of 2012||How SweetRush Can Help|
|# 1. CSR increasingly includes companies’ global supply chains,
and # 9. A separate but linked trend noting how caring for Human Rights Protection across the supply chain is becoming a standard expectation.
|Training and e-learning to educate suppliers and employees on environmental and ethical supply chain standards and changes.|
|# 2. Transparency and honest reporting is key,
and #8. Social media used for reporting.
|Help companies impress with cutting-edge, sharable, interactive e-learning games and reports, rather than old-school PDFs.|
|# 3. More data on link between CSR and engaged (and productive) employees.||This is a weak spot in CSR implementation, and happens to align with our sweet spot of internal employee learning, training, and engagement.|
|# 4. Careful CSR language this election year to avoid political pitfalls.||N/A – we leave this one to the politicos. J|
|# 5. Collaboration is a new trend for topic-specific solutions (stopping mining, for example).||Complex cross-sector collaborations often need training support. We have done similar training courses on cross-department education to support collaboration within large corporations.|
|# 6. Consumers concern and eco-labeling is on the rise.||Consumer-targeted training and web-based education.|
|# 7. Companies are increasing hiring in CSR areas.||CSR program-specific new-hire training.|
|# 10. Population growth ensures that sustainability will continue to be a key business imperative.||Sustainability innovations and process improvements also continue because of effective training and communication to smooth the transitions.|