How do you uncover your sustainability stories?

How do you uncover your sustainability stories?

Scroll through your LinkedIn feed. How many of the posts are telling a story about sustainability?

Chances are, quite a lot of them. According to research from consultancy firm BCG, two-thirds of us feel that post-pandemic economic recovery plans should make environmental issues a priority.

McKinsey, meanwhile, suggests that sustainability measures also make good business sense, with 40% of the companies it surveyed anticipating that their sustainability programmes will generate value within the next five years. 

With COP26 rapidly approaching, and at a time when companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) credentials are coming under ever-greater scrutiny by investors and customers, your organisation’s sustainability narrative really matters.

But what should that narrative be? Whether it’s your decarbonisation targets or the ground-level impact of your ESG activity, how do you work out the best sustainability stories for your organisation to tell?

Who is your target audience, and what matters most to them?

The first thing to do is to understand your customers’ needs. If you’re going to develop stories that resonate with people, you need to understand their very personal drivers, beliefs and challenges.

Then, map these against your own business aspirations whether that means building trust, driving reputation, or reducing time to sale. This will determine which type of content you should prioritise.

Consider, also, the links between customer objectives and their own alignment to overarching global goals, like decarbonisation and an equitable transition to net zero.

Any audience following the COP26 narrative will undoubtedly be interested in the event’s key themes, so try to map your own content to those goals. These include:

  • how to build climate resilience
  • how to mobilise finance
  • creating multilateral partnerships to overcome regulatory hurdles.

We can already see a number of companies producing story-driven content with net-zero targets in mind. This short video from Shell puts a human face on the move to electric vehicles, introducing audiences to a team member directly involved in the energy transition.

Using a different presentation style, insurance giant Swiss Re has produced reports linking climate change to devastating economic impacts, leveraging their specific expertise in data analysis to show the real-world implications of failing to hit net zero.

What are you trying to say − and why?

At the back of your mind, with any piece of content, you should always ask: ‘What do I want my audience to think, feel and do?’ or ‘Why will our target audiences be interested in what we have to say?’.

Answering that ‘why’ is how you’ll be able to differentiate yourself in a crowded conversation space and really demonstrate your corporate purpose.

Some companies may simply want their audiences to be aware of their short-and long-range sustainability targets. 

Others, like those in the financial sector, may want to illustrate the direct link between sustainable investing and empowered economies.

A simple messaging framework can guide and support your content if you are not clear what you should be talking about, or which subjects should form the core of your content.

It will also help you clarify your messages − and how you should talk about your organisation. 

What are the stories that will really resonate?

At its heart, storytelling is about human connection. That means digging in to find the people in your organisation whose work is really making a difference and show the impact on the ground wherever possible.

One example is an animation from Microsoft about a sustainable aviation fuel partnership they were building with Alaska Airlines to reduce the company’s overall carbon footprint. At just over a minute long, it has had thousands of views of its clear, simple message: here’s what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how we’re calculating the benefits.

For another one of our clients, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, a key consideration is showing the benefits of the company’s products and services in more than just pure customer terms.

“We use our technology as a hook, and then try and elevate the story to thought leadership level, where we can talk more in general about big tectonic plates big issues that are shifting; big technologies that are coming in; big political and social changes,” says Daniel Bogler, editorial consultant for MHI’s content platform, Spectra.

This piece, for instance, looks at how hydrogen could transform former industrial landscapes and make them fit for a greener future, in line with government decarbonisation strategies.

Getting your message to the world

As well as having the right message, you will also need to decide on the format that works best. Where is your target audience most likely to look for information? Are they more likely to respond to an in-depth article or an infographic? And how should you present it in a way that drives the most traffic? 

“It’s essential to engage your audience directly on social channels, rather than just using the platforms as a signpost to your website,” says Formative Content’s Digital Content Strategist, Richard Wellings. 

“Breaking down a complex concept into a five-slide carousel post on LinkedIn, or sharing a surprising stat in GIF format on Twitter, are the types of posts that consistently drive success for our clients.”

Ultimately, the stories that will connect with your audience are the ones they are interested in − and the ones that make sense coming from you.

Download our free ebook On purpose: telling sustainability stories with impact here.


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About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Gay Flashman - CEO, Formative Content
Author:Gay Flashman - CEO, Formative Content