Opinion | Using internal communication tools to support your sustainability ambitions

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Dive into the strategic priorities of most large organisations, and you’ll find environmental sustainability and climate action commitments front and centre, write Larraine Solomon, Dave Fletcher and Janet Hitchen. This rise in prominence is especially evident as we inch closer to 2030 – the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set at the Paris COP21 in 2015. 

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Financial achievements alone won’t guarantee success. Consumers, employees, and investors expect businesses to act responsibly while also generating profits. Consumers are increasingly drawn to brands that prioritise sustainability, actively demonstrating their commitment to a better future.

The Harvard Business Review underscores this: “Truly sustainable brands — those that make good on their promises to people and planet — will seize the advantage from brands that make flimsy claims or that have not invested sufficiently in sustainability.”

This sentiment is echoed by employees, who believe businesses have a responsibility to address environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. Appspace’s 2024 Workplace Experience Trends and Insights Report, for example, found that 72 per cent of employees say their organisation’s ESG strategy is important to them. 

Shining examples – and the growing risks of inaction

Patagonia is an example of an organisation that’s earned customer loyalty by consistently championing environmental causes and sustainability since its founding in 1973. More recently, Atlassian’s strong first sustainability report outlined progress, setbacks, and future goals around people, planet, customers and community. 

The message is clear: Stakeholders demand more than profits – they expect a genuine commitment to sustainable practices. This trend aligns with intensifying reputation and compliance risks. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report highlights the top threats for the next two and ten years. Within two years, misinformation, extreme weather, and societal polarisation dominate, while environmental risks – from extreme weather to natural resource shortages – occupy the top spots over the next ten years.

Challenges to overcome

Stating a stretch goal is easy, but for many organisations, delivering against that promise is proving to be more difficult. Many organisations, focused on compliance and reporting due to the recent regulations, are struggling to shift the narrative toward positive messages of hope, adaptability and innovation. And some companies are stuck on superficial changes like “turn the lights off” or “don’t use plastic water bottles” – failing to tackle systemic issues like those outlined in the WEF’s risk assessment.

Like any major change, success depends heavily on employee engagement. Leaders must make sure everyone understands their role in achieving sustainability goals. Chief sustainability officers often voice the need for greater employee engagement and a clear and compelling articulation of how these efforts benefit both the business and society. 

Innovation as inspiration

There are many good examples of companies that have taken an innovative approach to communicating their commitment to sustainability. One of our favourites is Apple’s “Mother Nature” video.

While the video ignited discussion within the sustainability community, with some of the claims debated, this creative approach undeniably elevated sustainability to the level of a flagship product launch, signalling a powerful commitment.

How enterprise software can help

According to Gallagher’s State of the Sector Report, only 11 per cent of organisations prioritise sustainability in their communications, despite 41 per cent having a clear ESG strategy in place. A third of organisations don’t communicate their ESG goals at all. This disconnect represents a missed opportunity.

A modern intranet creates a paradigm shift in communication. Whether an organisation is communicating about sustainability or other change initiatives, this technology provides the ability to connect, collaborate and co-create across languages and time zones – generating positive momentum, urgency and advocacy.

Tips for effective sustainability communication

Here are our top tips for communicating about sustainability:

Integrate – don’t isolate. Sustainability shouldn’t be a standalone thing. Weave it through your intranet content and make it part of your day-to-day narrative and culture. Sustainability isn’t a programme or an initiative – it’s a new way of doing business as we adapt to a changing world. 

Collaborate and co-create. Use your intranet to work together to generate ideas for future-proofing your business. Then share those teamwork stories. You’re aiming for your stories to affect behaviours and spark action.

Listen to your people. Gauge your team’s understanding and identify areas for education to support your sustainability journey.

Stay focused on your organisation’s mission and purpose. Sustainability is a vast topic – it won’t make sense to cover everything. Prioritise aspects of sustainability that align with your mission and your employees’ values.

Make it fun and engaging. Gamification can be an excellent way to start conversations and get people working together. Check out the Financial Times’ Climate Game, for example. 

Appspace: Where ESG meets innovation

At Appspace, ESG is a hot topic as customers’ net zero targets and climate-positive initiatives become increasingly important. From integrating with sensors that monitor and display air quality to occupancy sensors that help with energy efficiency, Appspace works with customers to help them achieve their sustainability goals. 

Today, Appspace understands the tension between sustainability and new technologies like AI, which can come with an environmental cost due to its intensive computing requirements. Appspace is navigating this landscape with a practical and thoughtful approach, from choosing cloud partners carefully to using clever techniques like caching AI translations (saving them for future use rather than re-calculating them each time). This lets Appspace use AI responsibly while staying true to its sustainability values.