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How openly should manufacturers share their sustainability journey?

Author : Alison Gardner, Stone Junction

08 February 2024

Alison Gardner, Stone Junction
Alison Gardner, Stone Junction

It seems like everyone is talking about sustainability at the moment — and with research suggesting global warming is close to hitting 1.5°C, it’s clear why. But if your manufacturing or engineering business isn’t leading the way, or hasn’t even started its sustainability journey yet, should you get involved in the conversation? Here, we explore the importance of transparent sustainability communication for any business.

While many larger corporations are now legally required to report on their environmental footprint, smaller businesses may not be sure whether or not to throw their hat in the ring. If the company prioritises being sustainable, the answer may be easy, but if the business requires improvement, the marketing team might be put off.

The prevalence of greenwashing and misinformation has created scepticism among consumers and stakeholders. Research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing finds that 49 percent of marketers are wary of working on sustainability marketing campaigns for fear of accusations of greenwashing.

Authenticity is therefore key when building a sustainability strategy to build trust and credibility.

Everyone starts somewhere
Many businesses are taking small, but positive, steps on their sustainability journeys, but feel it’s not worth sharing. However, reporting on and communicating your business’ sustainability progress, no matter how small, could inspire others to adopt similar practices.

Think of it in a similar way to Industry 4.0. If businesses only heard about the work of the leading businesses in the sector – think shiny, fully automated, cutting-edge smart factories – a company that has yet to start digitalising its processes might find little inspiration.

Instead, seeing the entire journey, including any challenges, setbacks and incremental steps towards progress, creates a more authentic narrative that empowers others to take similar paths.

Share your successes, but be realistic
There is no need to claim to be a leader in sustainability if you’re not an expert on the matter. Instead, businesses should focus on sharing their journey, the challenges they face and the progress they make. This could be something small, like replacing lightbulbs with automatic LED lights, or a bigger change like swapping to a renewable energy supplier.

No matter how far a business is in its journey, the most important thing is to be clear and not to exaggerate. Some campaigns are labelled as greenwashing when the facts are kept quiet – often because sharing them would reveal that claims are exaggerated.

Recent actions against a Shell advertising campaign is just one example. The local campaign, featured on TV and display ads, claimed that 1.4 million households in the UK use 100 percent renewable electricity from the company. While this is true, many believed that ethically it misleads the audience because the content ignores that Shell’s expenditure on green energy in the UK only represents around one percent of its revenue, the rest is related to fossil fuel production.

Keep consistent
Consistency is crucial, so ensure that your messaging aligns in everything you share, both externally and internally, to avoid any confusion or miscommunication. It’s also important to keep data accessible. Post your sustainability policy on the website to demonstrate the company’s commitment to sustainability.

As more people prioritise sustainability when choosing businesses to form part of their supply chain, it can pay to share your environmental credentials. Additionally, sharing realistic updates of your sustainability can help inspire other businesses to make small changes. And small changes will add up – we’ve already proved so with our digitalisation journeys as part of Industry 4.0.

As a technical PR agency in the science and manufacturing industries, Stone Junction understands the importance of transparent climate communication. For advice on building a credible sustainability strategy that suits your business, contact Stone Junction.

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