Don’t give greenwashing the green light


As featured in the Timber Trade Journal, Pagoda’s Deputy MD Holly Russell gives insight into ESG in the strategic communications context…

Just two years ago, ESG was rarely mentioned in PR terms. Businesses were keen to promote their environmental credentials and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), but ‘ESG’ was not something that featured in communications strategy.

Fast forward to 2023, and ESG is right at the top of communications planning. Where it was once only of interest to those seeking an investor, it is now a key driver in demonstrating business brand strengths and attractiveness as an employer.

What is ESG?

In simple terms, ESG – short for environmental, social and governance – is a framework measuring an organisation’s impact on society and environment as well as transparency and accountability.

Businesses have had to navigate a multitude of challenges in recent years, while appealing more than ever to clients, employees, stakeholders and the media. To stay competitive, they are developing their own ESG strategies – and of course, they’re now keen to communicate it.

This increased focus on ESG provides a great opportunity for timber – the sustainable material message has never been more important or more ‘on trend’. It’s great to see articles in publications like The Times bestowing the benefits of timber. Its eco credentials are reaching the end user, which will ultimately help fuel demand.

While we should continue to preach the benefits of timber, this is no longer enough. Communicating ESG needs to be much more strategic than simply announcing an ESG policy and reminding stakeholders that your product is ‘sustainable’. Firstly, with businesses of all sizes developing ESG strategies, the implementation of the strategy itself is simply not newsworthy. And secondly, scrutiny has increased hugely. Any organisation professing their sustainable or social credentials needs strong proof and evidence, or they might be accused of ‘greenwashing’.

It’s unsurprising that some businesses are actively choosing to avoid publicising details of their sustainability goals – even if well-intentioned – for fear of interrogation. However, keeping quiet on these matters (or ‘green hushing’) is just as concerning. It offers somewhere to hide and it stifles the shifting of mindsets, collaboration and inspiration that comes with the positive promotion of ESG.

How to promote ESG?

If handled well, an ESG communications campaign is an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and demonstrate leadership. ESG reporting can used as a tool to reach new audiences interested in sustainability and social impact.

Communications teams and PR advisers can help to identify opportunities, but crucially, the stories need to be positive, real and relevant. External stakeholders are interested in the journey and are keen to hear about progress – businesses who just wait to announce their results will discover they are late to the party. There is a genuine opportunity to showcase both valuable work and potentially new and more diverse spokespeople.  Examples might be storytelling around work by R&D teams to invoke change; or the lasting impact of apprenticeship opportunities. The human story is always the most interesting one.

Authenticity, transparency and evidence are core to an ESG communications strategy and it doesn’t need to be ground-breaking.  If a business can demonstrate culture change and that its actions are having an impact, it will help it gain trust and understanding. Any organisation that can back that up with relevant goals, metrics, and case studies will be in an excellent position.

There is a responsibility that comes with communicating ESG. We all have a part to play in protecting the planet, but if we want to make any real difference, net zero commitments cannot just be a PR exercise. So, my advice is simple – be honest, share the journey and inspire others. Don’t make it just another press release.




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