companies communication sustainability

Communicating Sustainable Development Via Digital: Which Companies Are Doing It Better?

Pierre-Yves Sanchis - Founder and publishing director

Expert in sustainability engagement, communication, entrepreneurship and media, Pierre-Yves leads Youmatter's strategy and developpement for more than 10 years. EN

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Which companies communicate better and more transparently, using the power of ‘digital’, the challenges of sustainable development? The Lundquist 2020 .future study, in which Youmatter is a partner, sheds light on this subject.

It is nowadays essential that businesses focus on sustainable development issues. Climate change, the biodiversity crisis, plastic pollution, impact on health or employment: all these issues are at the heart of the concerns of citizens and consumers today.

When we look at how their behavior evolves, a trend seems obvious: consumers are increasingly turning to companies they consider to be more sustainable. They’re looking for the ones being more respectful of the environment, acting more ethically and communicating more transparent.

As a result, companies are, therefore, facing different challenges. Not only do they need to carefully manage and measure their impact. They also need to communicate these results and their actions in the most effective ways in order to get to the right audience. This effective CSR communication also encompasses a transparent dialogue, in particular via digital – and not all companies are, at least yet, at the same level.

It is precisely this question that is at the heart of the .future study, initiated by Lundquist and in which Youmatter is a partner. In this piece, you’ll find the results from the European sample of the study. This data comes just a few days before Youmatter exclusively reveals the specific scores and curiosities on Great-Britain’s specific results. Which European companies perform best at communicating sustainable development issues, in particular via digital? Let’s take a closer look.

Communicating On Sustainable Development: Substance And Distinctiveness

49 European companies, members of the STOXX Europe 50 were analyzed for this study. The goal was to understand and measure corporate communication on sustainable development. This was done by focusing on the digital communication of the companies’ websites and social networks on sustainability-related matters.

It should be noted that the study does not assess the performance of the sustainable development strategies of the companies studied – but rather, their communication skills. Two particular aspects of communication were measured:

  • The substance (45% of the evaluation): which represents the quality of the information provided on a company’s sustainability strategy. This includes figures, objectives, context, etc. In summary, it holds all the information that a stakeholder should know about a topic. The more precise and specific this information, the higher the company’s score on the “substance” item. The information delivered was thus evaluated according to 3 criteria: their concrete dimensions, their precision, and their interconnection (whether they were put into perspective).
  • “Distinctiveness” (55% of the rating): the ability of a company to differentiate through its information and to create a commitment and interest among its stakeholders. To measure it, 4 criteria were used studied: the sharing of stories and points of view (which help to personify the process), the continuity of the information provided (the ability to quickly update information and keep stakeholders informed), the user experience (the easiness to read and use), and use of social media.

In summary, assessing how companies are doing when it comes to communicating sustainability means understanding two different variables. On one hand, looking at how accurately brands are disclosing their sustainability strategy. On the other hand, it’s about understanding whether this information is being distributed in a way that reaches and adds value to the interested stakeholders.

The Four Typical Profiles Of European Companies In Terms Of Sustainable Communication

The Lundquist 2020 .future study came up with a typology consisting of four “profiles” of business (plus one). Each depends on how brands communicate their sustainable development issues:

1: The “Narrators”

These companies deliver information in a specific, accurate and engaging way. They use different communication channels and got the (informal) title of being the “good students” on communicating sustainability.

The Companies in this category are: Eni, Unilever, Bayer, Nestlé, BASF, Roche, BP, Deutsche Telekom, and the National Grid.

2: The “Glitterati”

These were brands that communicated effectively on both form and substance. They were engaging, visual and modern. However, they sometimes lacked specific data supporting their communication.

The companies in this category are L’Oréal, Novartis, Royal Dutch Shell, Glencore, Siemens, UBS, and Schneider Electric.

3: The “Explainers”

These companies present plenty of data and figures. They also explain their strategies nicely. However, they don’t use this data very extensively across their social networks, lacking some visual content in their communications across these channels.

Brands in this category include Telefonica, Daimler, BAT, Total, Intesa Sanpaolo, AXA, Linde, Vinci, ING, GlaxoSmithKline, Zuric, and Diageo.

4: The “Traditionalists”

Perhaps the least advanced, these are brands that handle their sustainable development communication in a very simple way. There’s no real culture of transparency nor much interaction with their stakeholders via digital.

Examples of such companies are ABB, Air Liquide, Airbus, Allianz, Anheuser-Busch InBev, AstraZeneca, Banco Santander, BBVA, BNP Paribas, HSBC, Novo Nordisk, Reckitt Benckiser, SAP, and the Vodafone Group.

(5: The “Sleepers”)

The study also proposes a an extra category for 7 companies that haven’t disclosed enough information to pass the core evaluation.

These are ASML Holding, Lloyds Banking Group, LVMH, Prudential, Rio Tinto, Sanofi, and Safran.

Note: If you want to know more about your company’s score, please reach us out at hello@youmatter.world.

The Most Advanced European Companies Communicating Sustainability

In addition to these standard “profiles”, the Lundquist 2020 .future study also developed a sort of classification for the most successful companies. This was the result of framing them regarding their scores on “substance” and “form”.

Thus, 4 companies obtain the Gold score, having 60% of the maximum score on each issue: Bayer, Eni, Nestlé, Unilever. Five obtain the “Silver” score (at least 50% of the maximum score on each issue): BASF, BP, Deutsche Telecom, National Grid, Roche. And 19 obtained the “Bronze” score: AXA, BAT, Daimler, Diageo, GlaxoSmithKline, Glencore, ING, Intesa Sanpaolo, L’Oréal, Linde, Novartis, Royal Dutch Shell, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Telefonica, Total, UBS, Vinci, and the Zurich Insurance Group.

If we critically look at it, European companies still have mixed performances communicating their sustainable development challenges. Only 4 out of 49 companies obtain more than 60% on the two items of the study, which is less than 10% of the total sample. Moreover, 7 do not even reach the minimum score on the “substance” issue.

In the end, communicating sustainability isn’t easy. While some companies are already doing a good job, others still have a long road to go to catch up. With clear objectives and targets, and with ambitious CSR and sustainability strategies, it becomes easier to develop the right information and communicate it to the right audience.

[Image credits to mobile on Shutterstock]

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