Sustainability communication – what even large companies are doing wrong.

Reading time: 6 min

sustainability communication
“We need a sustainability campaign.” This request reaches us more and more often as experts in sustainability communication. Actually a reason for joy. If it weren’t for one small fundamental thing: many companies want to communicate sustainability – but don’t have a sustainability strategy. But without one, any communication will almost certainly not reach the target group, but rather put its foot in its mouth …

Without goals and ambitions, communication doesn’t work

There is growing pressure on companies to position themselves as environmentally friendly, socially responsible and committed. The solution is often, “That’s where marketing has to come in.” This is both obvious and nonsense if the basis is not right. In a complex, uncertain and increasingly digitalised world, the pressure to act is increasing. But at the same time, we long more than ever for real values, sincerity and humanity. Also from brands and companies in which we place our trust.

Sustainable commitment or industry standard?

An environmentally friendly attitude and social commitment are now part of the standard equipment in companies’ catalogue of values. Lighting switched to LEDs, power supply set to green electricity, less waste and a women’s quota introduced in the executive suite. Marketing is then proudly set in motion. But the brutal truth is: many measures are not sustainable achievements – but steps that are more economical, more sensible or simply industry standards anyway. Communicating such individual measures, which require only a little more commitment than the legal (or simply sensible…) framework demands, risks embarrassing statements and campaigns that, at best, get lost in the digital ether. At worst, they can be construed as greenwashing and even harm companies.

No communication without clear goals

However, even committed actions waste potential without an overarching narrative in communication. For example, the recycling measure in the canteen is a great step and the vegan Thursday is praiseworthy – but how does it fit into the overarching ambitions? How can we report on this if at the same time production waste is still ending up in landfills? The problem is lack of clarity: how does the brand fundamentally stand for more sustainability?these are individual measures. Very good. What is missing are overarching goals that fit the brand. And without them, there is no meaningful story that people find credible and relevant. Especially in uncertain times like these, we long for people, brands and companies in whom we can place our trust with a clear conscience. If there are no clear goals and ambitions behind the planned campaign, you quickly achieve the opposite of what you want: The company is perceived as untrustworthy, the messages as irrelevant.

Ideally, therefore, all initiatives, actions and measures should be told under an overarching, authentic sustainability narrative. Only in this way can corporate brands be permanently associated with their stance on sustainability.

First the strategy, then the communication

So before measures and marketing, there is an inward look. Companies need to be clear about their attitude, goals and values. Does the company know what it is all about? Does it know where it wants to go? How “sustainable” are its ambitions – more conventional or regenerative? How can measures serve the whole ecosystem?
Developing a sustainability strategy is about setting overarching goals and ambitions that fit the brand and culture. It is the basis for concrete actions, KPIs and sustainable development. And it is an important cornerstone for developing an overarching narrative.

We come into play as a sparring partner as early as the strategy development stage to sound out the potential of the brand. Together with our clients, we clarify which goals make sense from a brand perspective or are (or can be) perceived as authentic.

The sustainability narrative- marketing tool and driver for corporate development

Based on the sustainability strategy, we develop the narrative for sustainability communication. Important: This must also fit the brand and the sustainability strategy. As a unicorn and pioneer, the storytelling can be bold and provocative. For down-to-earth companies, communication is often more about transparency in their own development. A strategically sound narrative is much more than just a marketing tool: It also serves as a motor and orientation aid. This results in an interaction in which the narrative provides new ideas for actions and decisions, and has an impact on the lived corporate culture. The overarching sustainability narrative that has a lasting impact internally as well as externally.

What goals must be achieved for relevant communication?

The good news: once the strategy and narrative are in place, communication planning and rollout can begin! Not all objectives need to be ticked off to get the message out internally and externally. The way to get there should only be clear and the relevance should be right. We are happy to advise on the question: Which milestones must be reached in order to communicate in a way that is relevant to the industry, customers and employees?

Finally, everyone must be aware that this is an iterative process. No company simply switches to sustainable action and is done with it. It is a matter of looking at which goals have already been achieved and where new goals could lie. Where can the company develop further or even become – and remain – a pioneer?


Sustainable communication without a sustainability strategy is not sustainable. Those who only aim at external perception miss the mark. Because communication is always relationship building. And this only works if the brand is trustworthy and authentic. Whether customers, partner companies or employees: We long for sincere, appreciative relationships. Only if a company seriously addresses the issue of sustainability and pursues a credible and realistic strategy can a sustainability campaign become a successful lever in the battle for skilled workers and customers. I will be happy to support you along the way – with full appreciation and a radically honest view of your brand.

Desiree Sturm
Desiree Sturm

The Poetry of Employee Experience

Engaging High Performers in Times of Talent Shortage In today's workplace, only about a quarter of ...


What your (potential) employees really want!

This is how you manage to retain employees and attract new colleagues. Of course, like thousands be...


How your employer ­brand becomes a secret weapon

Why do we not (anymore) manage to convince new employees of our company? A question that is not only...

Next Level Sh*t

Generations Do you recognise yourself? So do I. My birth year is right in the heart of Generati...

Is social media the death of storytelling?

When every little thing is blown up into a big story, does the potential of brand staging die? ...

The power of (brand) empathy

How are you doing? What is currently on your mind? What is important to you? How do you feel? ...

What has 2021 done to us?

Corona and no end... ... or rather the beginning of something new? As always, it depends on the...

Sustainability communication – a learning process between brand and marketing

A study* from 2019 already showed: Almost half of the people have a more positive attitude towar...

What is your attitude towards Purpose?

My impression is: having an attitude is easy until you have to prove it... But first of all, cl...

Successful strategy workshops

What makes the difference between well thought and well done? One of the most used buzzwords in...

The newsroom, the unknown entity

In this blogpost you'll learn the whole truth about Newsrooms, you definitely don't want to miss...

Leadership 4.0 – How leadership became human again

In times of crisis, people long for leadership, both socially and in the working context. In add...

“Everything Remains New” – A New Work Revolution

Strict hierarchies? Fixed structures? Static performance targets? Benchmarks that were taken for...

“New Normal” – Our working world after the crisis

An approach that was heavily influenced by the Corona Pandemic. But what is new about this normal?...

Augmented Reality in communication

2D vs. 3D Our world takes place in 3D - but why then our communication almost exclusively in 2D? He...