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Why your sustainability message matters

Why your sustainability message matters

David Thompson explains the importance of cohesive and consistent sustainability communication

The Middle East is ramping up its sustainability transformation, with many nations adopting international best practices and even aspiring to become global leaders in this arena.

Take Dubai as an example. When Expo 2020 comes around, the emirate aims to become one of the top 10 sustainable cities in the world — largely though the implementation of green building regulations. One of the bigger, though perhaps less understood, challenges is the need to accompany this shift with effective communications to reflect the new level of sustainability requirements in companies.

As we take greater steps in this pursuit, one thing we can be sure of is an exponentially larger focus on, and scrutiny of, companies that do and do not comply with new sustainability regulation and best practice. Here we find the real challenge, with sustainability moving higher up the agenda: How do businesses effectively deploy their communications efforts to promote existing and/or new sustainability initiatives to an increasingly savvy audience?

Despite Dubai’s admirable ambitions, it currently ranks in the bottom half of the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index 2016, which ranks 100 major cities. In fact, the region as a whole ranks poorly. For example Cairo is in 99th position, Amman 86th, Jeddah 81st, Istanbul 77th, Muscat 75th, and Kuwait City 70th.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is cause for celebration, with ambitious state level initiatives already underway and many more on the horizon. Take Dubai Municipality as an example, it recently launched the National Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, in addition to similar local initiatives such as the Sustainability Committee, and industry guidelines including the Green Building Regulations and Specifications. The point we must accept is the macro economic landscape in the region is changing swiftly towards a sustainable future. Taking heed from developed economies that have accelerated in this area, it is evident that some businesses will adapt and prosper, while others will be left behind.

Once upon a time, businesses could roll out a lukewarm message of sustainability, safe in the knowledge their stakeholders were either none too savvy, or simply uninterested. However, as the arguments in favour of developing sustainable business practices have increased, so too have the expectations from all those with a vested interest in your business.

As a starting point in your communications efforts, you need to accept that sustainability has its own language and definitions, so a communications professional must be fluent in the subject. Failure in this regard can lead to half-hearted interpretations, often creating a confusing or uninspired message for the stakeholder. As the space becomes more crowded, only those educated on the intricacies of sustainability and with an understanding of effective communications will stand out from the crowd and achieve success on any measurable scale.

The practicalities of achieving success in this endeavour are much less complicated than you may think. Short of seeking an experienced third party communications company to handle your sustainability messaging, here are a few keys points to consider as you move forward in your sustainability journey.

  • Consistently weaving sustainability into all your communications will delicately, but convincingly, demonstrate your knowledge and seriousness about subject.
  • High-impact and short-term campaigns are more likely to leave audiences confused about your efforts and questioning your strategy.
    Communicating your sustainability initiatives in a way that is sincere, authentic and that indicates a well thought out strategy, will lead to increased trust in your brand, products and services.
  • Part of the coming challenge is to educate those both internally and externally associated with your company — in doing so you can develop and promote a unified message.

As more government level initiatives are rolled out, and with growing pressure from the international community, a seemingly soft topic like sustainability could present a very real danger to your prosperity. Simply rolling out superficial ‘green’ messages is no longer enough — you must now effectively communicate your initiatives to a sophisticated audience.

As a golden rule, communications efforts in the realm of sustainability must be strategic and planned for the long-term. Exemplifying single initiatives, no matter how successful they may be, will not achieve the desired results. This is where a campaign-based approach is essential.

David Thompson is a consultant at Instinctif Partners Middle East

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