10 Jun 2020

How to communicate your organisation’s carbon action

Posted in: Communicating sustainability

How to communicate your organisation’s carbon action

This is the second of a three-part series on the importance of communicating climate action and carbon reductions for your business - how you should do it. Stay tuned for the third part: how effective carbon communications can make a big impact.


Toitū believes good communication is critical to meeting the climate change challenge. Whether it’s increasing your customer loyalty and understanding through your carbon reductions, or encouraging your suppliers and competitors to also do the right thing, how you communicate your climate action initiatives can make a major difference to how others view your business and our society’s collective response to climate change. (If you missed it, we covered the “why” in our first instalment ).

Know your audience and how best to communicate with them

This is an important question and one that if you are a successful business you have probably already answered. You know who your customers and suppliers are and already have an effective means to communicate with each of them.

What channel or platform are you using? A business speaking to a younger audience may, for example, find that more dynamic social media platforms like Tiktok or Instagram work best, while an older audience may be better reached via Facebook and LinkedIn or approached through newsletters emailed direct to their inbox. Social media provides a remarkable resource for interconnectedness and allows you to leverage off the progress that others are making. Developing an informal network of organisations that support each other through their carbon reduction activities will help get your message out there.

Customers who are already onboard with addressing climate change won’t need convincing about why your actions are important, but they will want to know what you are doing and how you are doing it. However, if you plan on using your carbon reduction to attract new customers or clients then you may need to adjust your communication. You want to tell a story – not just what you’re doing, but also why you’re doing it. But most importantly, show your customer how they are part of the journey too. They want their purchase to do good, so if you can give them a buzz, then they’ll come back for more.

Don’t forget your internal stakeholders

It’s very easy in communications to focus almost entirely on the external audience, but your most important stakeholders are the staff and shareholders who live and breathe your business every day.

Most people want to be involved with an organisation they are proud of. Make sure that first off, your staff and shareholders know what carbon reduction initiatives you are running and the positive impact that is having on the environment. For instance, write an intranet article, a tearoom poster or host a “green” morning tea where you can share initiatives and achievements. This is likely to create a more positive workplace and could encourage innovative thinking into what else can be done to reduce the organisation’s environmental footprint.

Getting your internal stakeholders involved in helping you communicate carbon reduction is an easy and effective way of advertising the good you are doing. Proud staff and shareholders are likely to be passionate brand ambassadors and spread the word through their interaction with friends and family. Many will take the message to social media as well. Provide them with some simple key messages to help them communicate your environmental initiatives accurately and succinctly.

Develop a communication plan

Developing a communication plan is a good way of ensuring that you work methodically towards your communication goals. It will also help to ensure that you are not missing opportunities to promote what you are doing and are maximising those as much as you can. A communication plan is also useful to make sure that all members of your team have input into the messaging and how it goes out.

It is important to remember that a communication plan is only useful if people actually use it. Many organisations go through the process of developing a plan and then file it away never to be seen again. To help guard against this include within the plan an activities calendar that divides tasks up between different people in your organisation. That way everybody takes ownership of different pieces of work and will help keep the plan relevant and up-to-date.

Be positive and genuine

Climate change can, at times, feel a bit overwhelming and much of the media commentary surrounding it is routinely pessimistic. This, unfortunately, turns many people off from really engaging with the issue and can slow down meaningful action.

We know that people respond best to goals that feel achievable. You will have much greater success in making people feel good about engaging with your business if you emphasise your goals (and plans to meet these), innovation, and benefits (environmental and otherwise) of what you are doing rather than the scale of the problem itself.

Your clients and customers do not expect perfection. So be authentic and open about the challenges you still face. It will also encourage other organisations who are at different stages in their own journeys and are facing their own challenges.

Use individual stories

Communicating what you are doing isn’t about reinventing the wheel. Use the style, language and techniques that already work for you and make sure you provide your audience with regular updates on your progress.

Audiences respond to real-life stories. Get the agreement of your staff to use inspiring accounts of their efforts to bring some personality to the issue. This also makes climate change more relatable for everyday consumers, who might not see the relevance of some of your more “behind the scenes” initiatives or the tonnes of CO2 you have reduced. Don’t forget any “what’s in it for me” links to the consumer too – like a faster service, longer-lived product, or any other co-benefits.

Stay tuned for the third and final article in this series where we take a look at how business has an important leadership role in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions and the role communications can play in that.

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