Sergio Vazzoler

Sustainability? Maybe it’s not so sustainable…
That would appear to be the case, judging from a recent survey conducted by Bain & Company among 300 companies with sustainability programs.
The most surprising figure is attainment of goals: only a meagre 2{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} of businesses manage to achieve their objectives. The finding has even more negative overtones when compared with other corporate change programs: in this case, the percentage of organisations meeting their targets rises to 12{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}.

Fonte: Achieving Breakthrough Results in Sustainability by BAIN & COMPANY

Fonte: Achieving Breakthrough Results in Sustainability by BAIN & COMPANY

As often happens, however, while the figures reflect a trend, the real litmus test lies in the underlying reasons. It turns out that sustainability is not considered instrumental for business by employees, who do not see it as a priority since it is not tied to economic incentives. The survey also found that inside the company sustainability has to compete with other priorities (and ends up the loser).

To put it bluntly, sustainability seems to be viewed more as a whim than as a necessity, and, so, entirely marginal with respect to corporate competitiveness.
Yet all market surveys show consumer preference is growing for products and brands that combine quality with ethical values, respect for diversity, social and environmental responsibility.

Is this a contradiction? Demand that is not met by supply?
In my opinion, this is not the (only) point. Rather, the answer should be sought in companies’ inability to communicate sustainability: precisely because sustainability leverages values of equity and responsibility that (almost) everyone identifies with, too often managers and company owners underestimate the importance of communication, hoping that because the cause is right, it will look after itself. Well, nothing could be more mistaken!

Sustainability is as subject as other processes of organisational change to the supreme rule: change people’s behaviour.

So why do companies still favour a solemn communication tone, using a technical language far removed from people’s daily experience and organising meetings to discuss an endless stream of indigestible international indicators, when they could be implementing the good old AIDA model? For sustainable behaviour too, we need to create awareness among our audience (listening to them more and better), to build (and maintain) interest in order to trigger desire (and here economics can play a vital role), and then give the final push towards action.

Sustainability, in other words, has to become an organisational culture and this needs communication that is professional, original, and engaging. As copywriter Bill Bernbach once observed “Men of goodwill are not necessarily good communicators. And that can be a tragedy”.

This is why we have begun collecting the stories of corporate communicators, CSR and sustainability managers to examine how sustainability is communicated today, the pitfalls and the solutions.

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