Recent policy developments have ushered in a new era of climate action in Australia and leaders need to demonstrate vision and meaningful action, so getting sustainability communications right will be critical, says Sefiani’s Julia Hoy.

In Australia, 75% of businesses have a net zero target set by 2050. The business community did not wait for Australia’s national target and moved ahead of the government, acknowledging the rising expectations from investors, regulators, consumers, employees and partners, as well as the environmental imperative as one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change.

However, Sefiani’s 2022 “Communications that Matters” report found that something is holding leaders back from communicating about their sustainability commitments – fear.

When developing the report, Sefiani spoke with marketing and communications leaders from Australia and around the world. Their message was clear: leaders fear how much to say, how far to go and how bold to be. Now, more than ever, leaders must be courageous.

Ambition aligned to action

Demonstrating genuine commitment to sustainability is now expected of every organisation. Companies with a strong and authentic voice on sustainability – in its full meaning – are more highly regarded by the community, by industry and by their global peers.

The companies that will be remembered for their efforts in sustainability are those that are true to their purpose and put the people they employ and serve at the heart of their approach.

But the devil is in the detail.

Communicating with honesty and transparency is critical – organisations risk being called out for greenwashing and losing trust. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently announced a fresh greenwashing sweep in a bid to eliminate misleading sustainability claims as “consumers become increasingly interested in purchasing sustainable products”.

Nobody expects companies to have all the answers on sustainability, but they do expect honesty, integrity and to be informed along the journey.

Companies cannot let fear stand in the way of communicating about sustainability. A more sustainable future relies on organisations that communicate their stories and share their learnings, clearly and consistently.

Leaders need to be courageous

Sustainability needs to be integrated into organisational strategy – and this starts in the boardroom. The executive level of any company needs to have a deep understanding of sustainability and leaders need to work together on a holistic and united strategy that can be embedded across the organisation.

Stakeholders are looking to their leaders to commit to ambitious targets, answer tough questions honestly and inspire them with the opportunity of making big changes that have genuine impact.

The strength of the strategy, the transparency of the story and the integrity of business leaders will make or break companies in a world tired of empty promises and hungry for action.

Carving a path forward

To help companies improve their sustainability communications, Sefiani uses the SCORE Framework, a practical tool put together by the University of Oxford, Berkeley Law and the British Academy, which Sefiani built on to help link the purpose of their clients to sustainable actions and outcomes.

The framework, laid out in the “Communications that Matters” report, takes a step-by-step approach to helping organisations on their journey.

  • Simplify: Develop an overarching narrative that is ownable, enduring and authentic. The goal is for this narrative to provide clarity and direction.
  • Connect: Ensure the overarching narrative is hardwired into an organisation so there is no disconnect between words and actions.
  • Own: Empower leaders to own the transition towards sustainability, being visible, accountable and prepared for scrutiny.
  • Reward: Motivate stakeholders by inviting them to play a meaningful role in the development and implementation of a sustainability strategy.
  • Exemplify: Tell stories that differentiate your brands, sharing your unique voice on sustainability that aligns with brand purpose.

These steps aim to help brands share their authentic story and start to embed this into the company narrative.

As Australia continues to progress towards a 43% target, getting sustainability communications right will be critical. Communicators will continue to play an important role in helping their organisations to successfully create and articulate change through storytelling. They will inform, inspire, educate, energise and connect their stakeholders, mobilising them behind one vision.

The challenges ahead are tough but the urgency has never been greater and the rewards never more meaningful.