Earth Day, Earth Week, now Earth Month. Founded in 1970 as a day to honor the achievements of the environmental movement and raise awareness of the need to protect the Earth’s natural resources for future generations, Earth Day has become an extended time of education on environmental issues. In part marked by marketing campaigns, social media posts, and media hype touting the accomplishments of brands making progress on climate action, Earth Day celebrations now come and go throughout April.
My proposal — let’s just call it Earth Year and keep the momentum going year-round? Unlikely, but the point here is that we — marketing and communications leaders — are instrumental in keeping the original Earth Day agenda top-of-mind throughout the year. We play a pivotal and critical role in advancing the climate agenda and ultimately accelerating the pace of progress, but it means not taking our foot off the pedal come May 1. To that end, here are my top five tips for making every day Earth Day in marketing and communications:
1) Radical collaboration is critical to scaling impact.
We’re all likely good collaborators but are we “radical collaborators?” This requires going outside the typical partnerships and looking for new and even unlikely co-marketing opportunities with customers, partners and competitors. It means banding together internally with our sustainability leadership, investor relations and public affairs colleagues, and People & Culture teams to align on shared goals and strategy. Where can we use the power of partnerships, coalitions, and industry alliances to move more quickly and at-scale?
2) Yes, transparency AND authenticity matter.
Similar, but different. Transparency is how much you share about what your company is doing, while authenticity is the extent to which there is truth and substance behind your words and actions. To do both means that you talk openly about both your progress and successes as well as the challenges and setbacks your company has experienced along the way. We need more companies willing to be both transparent and authentic in their ESG communications. It will increase stakeholder trust and help others learn from your experiences.
"If you’re doing the work, talk about it."
3) Greenwash or greenhush? Neither please.
Greenhushing is the withholding of communication and information on a company’s climate strategy or actions for fear of reputational risk. Supporters of greenhushing defend that it keeps companies from greenwashing, which means making false or misleading claims about their sustainability initiatives, but this isn’t always the case. Some hold back for fear they’re not doing enough or because they think they won’t get brand recognition. This presents a problem. It can paint an unrealistic picture that climate action is slowing down or that fewer companies are taking meaningful action. My recommendation — if you’re doing the work, talk about it.
4) Different audience, different message.
Clients often ask me to help draft their ESG messaging and every time I respond with “who is the audience?” Simple enough, that’s comms 101, but often, I have to get more specific. The message for an investor versus a customer can be wildly different; even for different demographics of customer. Gen Z is more likely to understand concepts like "net-zero", while Baby Boomers respond more to the term "eco-friendly." Before you embark on any ESG communication, break down your core audiences, build out personas for them, and clarify any pain points or challenges that your communications may address. Then get busy drafting your messaging.
5) What’s ahead? Operationalizing ESG (communications).
There’s a need for companies of all sizes to operationalize sustainability by building into every area of the business. I think the same is true for ESG communications. I often hear from clients in marketing and communications that they don’t know how to integrate ESG into their corporate communications or brand marketing. At the same time, I hear from my sustainability clients that they are deprioritized and siloed from marketing and communications. It’s time to break down the walls and demystify ESG communications. ESG has shown to influence investment decisions, hiring, employee retention and sales, so operationalizing ESG communications make sound business sense.
In the end, whether it’s Earth Day, Earth Week, or Earth Month, it is serving an important purpose by raising awareness of the topic of climate change and the need for more resources to solve it. My hope is that it can go beyond awareness building and inspire action that is sustainable year-round.