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Nov 12, 2021
PIABO

How to implement sustainability in companies – and communicate it authentically

The UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow has once again brought it home to us with all its urgency: All forces in society must contribute to achieving the 1.5-degree target to mitigate the devastating effects of the climate crisis.

One piece of good news is that more and more entrepreneurs are implementing sustainability in their daily work – and not only those who produce goods or those whose business models revolve around green products or technologies. These entrepreneurs are taking social responsibility and becoming pioneers of a resource-efficient economy aware of planetary boundaries. How can ecological sustainability become part of the everyday professional life of us all? And how can the commitment be convincingly communicated to the public?

Technologies for sustainability and climate protection are booming

In 2020, the global market volume of the Greentech industry exceeded the 4 trillion mark for the first time with around 4.6 trillion euros, according to the management consultancy Roland Berger. And the outlook is promising: by 2030, technologies for environmental protection and resource efficiency will have a global turnover of around 9.4 trillion euros. This corresponds to an average annual growth rate of 7.3 per cent.

True commitment to corporate sustainability

The quest for sustainability is not only expressed in the rise of innovative technologies for energy efficiency and decarbonisation, environmental protection and the careful use of resources. Sustainability is increasingly becoming a living practice in companies, regardless of whether their products and services belong to the Greentech sector or other areas. 

One reason is the mandatory sustainability reporting that the European Commission imposes on a particular set of companies. Among other things, this requires companies to present their environmental balance sheet. According to the European Commission, there are currently about 11,700 companies in this category; due to a change of criteria, there will be as many as 49,000 by 2023. But it does not take a regulation for companies to take sustainability seriously. Many voluntarily commit to it – not only because the public, customers and investors increasingly expect them to act responsibly. Companies serve as members of society and know that it is not enough to avoid CO2 and conserve resources in their private lives. Sustainability must be practised everywhere, also in the workplace. 

Steps to a climate-friendly company 

There are many ways to organise everyday work according to ecological principles: Employees should switch to climate-friendly means of transport. The company carpool can also be converted to climate-friendly electricity-powered vehicles, reduced, or even eliminated. Companies need to reevaluate business travel altogether: Which trips are strictly necessary, and can employees go by train instead of flying or driving? If anything good came out of the Covid 19 pandemic, it was the increased acceptance to hold meetings remotely.

Much leverage also lies in the choice of a companies energy source: the switch to a green energy provider is an obvious first step, if possible. Perhaps companies have the option of installing a solar power system on the company roof. Smart thermostats can help with proper heating, and air conditioning systems should be operated as infrequently as possible using climate-friendly refrigerants. Even adequate ventilation in the morning hours and darkening can go a long way to ensuring a pleasant working temperature in summer. 

Making an impact, every day

Last but not least, supplies and office materials, especially food, can also have a significant impact. Regional food, for example, has a low CO2 footprint. Switching canteen or event catering menus to vegetarian or vegan options only benefits the climate greatly. The consumption of resources for the production of electronic devices is enormous. Thus companies should also reconsider how often they purchase new equipment. Relying on public cloud computing can be more climate-friendly than running your own outdated IT infrastructure in the IT sector. 

To ensure that these measures are firmly anchored in the corporate culture, it makes sense to appoint a climate officer to introduce and manage sustainability measures in collaboration with other employees. 

Measure and compensate

How high the company's carbon footprint is can now be easily determined using various tools. "Leaders for Climate Action", an international climate initiative of digital companies, offers an easy-to-use calculator. Planetly provides a similar service. Once a company has determined its environmental impact, it can take action by offsetting its emissions – for example, by supporting initiatives for reforestation in rainforests. When offsetting, it is essential to look for the "Gold Standard" (GS) or "Verified Carbon Standard" (VCS) certification of the projects. Certified providers include atmosfair or myClimate, for example. 

Communicate sustainability authentically 

Whether you are a manufacturing company or a creative service provider: the bigger the stake companies take in climate action, the stronger the signal and the more likely other companies are encouraged to follow the same path. Of course, taking action also has a positive effect on customers, partners and investors.  And sustainability is also gaining in importance in employer branding. In the eyes of many job seekers, it makes a company more attractive and thus becomes an essential instrument in the war for talents. 

Sustainability is, therefore, a model for success on many levels. But how can it be communicated authentically and credibly? Facts and figures on the company's carbon footprint are essential to convincing a public increasingly knowledgeable about greenwashing. But data should only be a stepping stone for communicating about environmental action. The focus itself must be on the ambassador, the entrepreneur: Only those who publicly and personally identify with sustainability and engage in public discussion of the subject can demonstrate that this is not a compulsory exercise – but a sincere concern that belongs to the company's core brand identity.

Sustainability as the new standard

The chances of receiving positive recognition are good. Corporate sustainability is just becoming the standard, and stories about making it happen are still fresh. The topic has entered the mainstream, and along with sustainability and business media, general interest publications are showing increased interest. This development is supported by consumers' desire for transparency, for a look behind the scenes. Entrepreneurs can achieve openness through their presence on social media.

Entrepreneurs must 'show their face' and personify the pursuit of sustainability. People appreciate authenticity – and thus also stories that do not gloss over anything but lend real insights into the company. This also means describing the difficulties that companies must overcome on the way to becoming climate-neutral. A story only becomes exciting when the protagonists have to overcome challenges – just glossing over everything is unbelievable and boring. You don't become sustainable overnight. Starting the journey and talking about it is authentic and creates closeness. 

Entrepreneurs as the driving force

The greater the visibility and credibility of entrepreneurial action in the climate and environmental movement, the stronger the signal and the opportunity to accelerate the transformation to a sustainable economy will be. To achieve this goal, we need authentic communication and people who inspire. By taking on this role, entrepreneurs can become protagonists and thus a driving force in tackling climate change, about which the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon already said in 2014 at the opening of the UN Climate Summit in New York: 

"Climate change threatens hard-won peace, prosperity, and opportunity for billions of people. Today we must set the world on a new course. Climate change is the defining issue of our age. It is defining our present. Our response will define our future. To ride this storm, we need all hands on deck."

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