April 22 used to be an arbitrary day. Now Earth Day is a multi-industry disruptor and April is Earth Month. Yet last April 22 (4/22/2020) marked just the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It’s strange to think that a significant desire for environmental advocacy arose only several decades ago. Regardless, to remain relevant, companies and their communicators must take steps to increase sustainable initiatives for Earth Day and every day.
Fortunately, there are many more organizations taking action. Some in the fashion, beauty and tech industries, for instance, began shifting their practices, though critics say more is needed. All this follows years of mostly lip service from a variety of companies about environmental issues.
Considering that 63 percent of Americans in one poll believe climate change is a serious issue and COVID-19 has bolstered concern about the environment, sustainability serves as a perfect forefront. For example, sustainability is at the center of companies like Patagonia and Tom's of Maine.
Beyond those exemplar companies, it is essential for brands and communicators to inform consumers and clients about sustainable practices. Consumers are asking companies to report on sustainability. As communicators, several concerns should be on our checklist:
- have we included a section on our website that quantifies the company's sustainability efforts?
- are we writing blog posts and op-eds to highlight current efforts and future goals?
- have we applied for sustainable and eco-conscious awards, recognitions and certifications?
- are we considering submitting for Green Product Awards, Global Good Awards and others?
- we can raise our credibility with a Fair Trade or B Corp certification
- have we made sure that we are remaining relevant, competitive and included in the sustainable-focused press?
The rising number of eco-centric publications, like The Good Trade and Ecocult, require that your company remains competitive to secure media. In addition, mainstream publications ranging from People Magazine to the NY Times continue to increase sustainable-focused stories and coverage. Many online publications have entire sections dedicated to sustainability.
Sustainability can seem overwhelming, especially for small communication teams. As it is a fairly new ideology, sustainability has few roadmaps. Fortunately, there are small, simple ways to begin implementing sustainable practices:
- Consider using UPS carbon-neutral shipping to diminish your brand’s carbon footprint.
- Consumers and environmentally-conscious editors notice use of excessive plastic. So, eliminate single-use plastic, such as hangers and excess wrapping.
- Use biodegradable materials for shipping.
- Send press kits digitally rather than printing hundreds of pages.
Track and quantify these initiatives and communicate the brand's success. Make sure consumers know the company is committed to change. Transparency and dedication to positive change are foundations of a successful communication plan for sustainability.
More sustainability ideas: consider organizing company-wide volunteer days. Help employees find volunteer work in their community for nonprofits and/or organizations centered around promoting sustainability. Perhaps your communication team could provide pro bono media outreach for a sustainability organization.
Collaborations and partnerships with nonprofits and environmental groups promote them and your company. In addition, such activities help increase your company's trust quotient.
And while you're helping raise awareness of sustainability inside and outside your company, make sure you and your communication colleagues are walking the walk. Put sustainability top of mind while completing day-to-day tasks. Set the example. Communicators should constantly ask: "Is there a way for me to make what I am doing more eco-friendly or sustainable?'
We must make sustainability an industry norm, continuing to practice eco-friendly tactics not only on Earth Day, but every day.
Cindy Riccio is president and founder of CRC Inc