How to Build and Market a Sustainability Strategy
Sustainability is a hot topic and it seems like every company on our big blue marble is sharing their eco-friendly efforts. But how do you effectively build and market a sustainability strategy?
We've explored this with many of our clients - especially in the manufacturing space - to bring intangible sustainability efforts into a defined strategy that drives leads.
In this blog post, we'll explore the ins and outs of creating a sustainability strategy that benefits the world and helps your business become a thought leader.
What is Sustainability?
You'll likely notice throughout this blog that I refer to sustainability in broad strokes and don't break it down into specifics - that's because sustainability is broad. It's also a term that no one can seem to agree on the precise meaning. It's often used interchangeably with phrases like "eco-friendly" and "going green," but that's also not really what we mean in this post. For our purposes:
Sustainability is the multilayered impacts your business, products and services have on the world. Personally, I like the succinct definition from the United Nations:
Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Sustainability often does include environmental impacts. However, it can also include societal and political impacts too. What exactly sustainability means to your organization is the first thing you're going to need to define before you can create a strategy.
For the purposes of this blog, we'll keep sustainability broad and vague, but keep in mind the definition above. That's the starting point we're working from when we talk about sustainability and business.
Building a Sustainability Strategy
There are a number of ways to approach a sustainability strategy, but they boil down to two main focuses: using sustainable manufacturing practices and internal practices and commitments. Many companies will tackle both, but it truly does depend on your business.
Sustainability for manufacturing and consumer goods
For manufacturing or retail businesses, the path to sustainability starts with the materials you use and/or products you sell. What alternatives exist that can be recycled? What companies can you partner with that also promote sustainability? Use those questions for research, assessment and planning.
Your specific sustainability initiatives are going to be unique. Some examples from our customers include:
- Switching to a reusable plastic substrate for manufacturing parts
- Reviewing old machinery and identifying more sustainable replacements
- Improving manufacturing processes to reduce waste
- Educating consumers on proper material selection to reduce shipping waste
- Sourcing suppliers that create products out of recycled and/or biodegradable materials
Sustainability for service businesses
If you're a service-based business, you might not be able to bring any substantial sustainability initiatives to your intangible product. This is where a lot of companies default back to "we have recycling bins in the office" because they don't see an obvious way to make their practices sustainable.
However, there are a lot of sustainability options for service businesses. Consider improving the output of physical offices (reduce energy use, promote carpooling, etc.) and charitable giving/public advocacy.
You can create an internal strategy using guidelines from United Nations Global Impact, which offers step-by-step guides for companies on how to meet their sustainability guidelines.
Still stumped? PWC has an excellent online tool you can use to generate ideas for a sustainability strategy. Input in your market and goals, and it'll generate industry insights related to your niche.
➤ Use PWC's ESG Industry Insights Tool
Marketing Your Sustainability Strategy
The goal of marketing yourself as sustainable is more similar to public relations (PR) than it is to lead generation - however, you may see more leads come in as a result. Publicizing your sustainability strategy is a great way to provide transparency to your customers and showcase your company's culture. You need to market to two main markets: your employees and your customers.
Ideally, involve your employees in building your sustainability strategy. Sustainability works best when everyone is on board - and you can also get great ideas from your employees.
Once your strategy is ready to go, you'll want to start by marketing it to your employees:
Write out your sustainability strategy
Capture your strategy in a document that your team can reference. This should include goals, tactics and metrics for measurement. This should live somewhere everyone can access for easy reference - and it should also be updated each year.
Use email to keep employees engaged
Set a schedule for email updates to send to your employees: this should track your overall business progress toward your sustainability goals. Include any charitable giving or advocacy actions taken. Take the opportunity to shout-out employees for meeting initiatives.
Make it easy and rewarding to engage with your strategy
Give your employees an avenue to actively engage with your strategy. It could be as simple as a dedicated Slack channel for your sustainability initiatives for employees to share wins and insights. You could create a dedicated recognition program centered around sustainability initiatives. Whatever you do, make it rewarding for your team.
Sustainability strategies work when your employees are engaged and invested in your strategy. These should be the very first people you get on board.
Marketing to your customers
Your sustainability initiatives shouldn't just exist internally - they should be shared with the world. For this section, I'm using "customers" broadly - this also includes potential customers and leads who haven't converted yet, as well as your existing customers.
When you're ready to take your sustainability strategy public, use these tactics:
Share the same strategy externally as internally
Customers care about transparency. The easiest way to be transparent is to be public with your strategy and goals. A common concern is "what happens if I fall short of my goals?" This is the exact reason why you should make it public. It's easy to talk to the talk, but customers care about action. Being honest, open and transparent about everything - even when it isn't a win - will garner trust with your audience.
Create a page on your website
Create a dedicated page on your website for your sustainability initiatives, and don't bury it - put it in the footer or about us page. We've found that our clients with a dedicated sustainability page see an increase in traffic and positive feedback from their customers. The page should include your documented strategy (if it's long, make it a PDF link and summarize it on the page itself), resources for your customers to use and updates. You can repurpose a lot of content mentioned above in the "use email to keep employees engaged" section. This page should be a catch-all for your sustainability strategy.
Create content around sustainability
One of the most surprising insights we've gathered from clients who undertake a sustainability strategy is the lack of a strategy from their competition. It seems like everyone is talking up sustainability, but not everyone is walking the talk. This creates a huge potential to be a thought leader and resource within your niche. Create blogs and guides around sustainability. An easy way to start: write out what you did. Walk through the process of how you created your sustainability strategy, and package it into a blog. Before you know it you'll have great content to share that will expand your leadership in your industry. Your competitors might start using your guides as the basis for their strategy. This is a good thing! You want to be a trendsetter in this space.
Sustainability initiatives are top-of-mind for businesses and consumers. Building and marketing a sustainability strategy should be a deliberate and planned process. Engaging employees and customers in your sustainability strategy is important for marketing yourself, creating advocates, and moving forward with your sustainability processes.
BizzyWeb is a Minneapolis-based digital marketing and web design agency that helps companies get the high-quality leads they need to grow and thrive. Our tactics include inbound marketing, SEO, advertising, web design, content creation and sales automation. We are an accredited HubSpot Platinum Partner and we offer full-service HubSpot onboarding, enablement and strategy for new and current users.