We take a look at the big themes in sustainability and the challenges and opportunities they pose for comms professionals.
1 – Reporting, Reporting, Reporting
2024 is a big year for ESG reporting, with both the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive and the UK’s Sustainable Disclosure Requirements coming into effect for large businesses.
Challenge – Comprehensive reporting produces a lot of data, much of which will not be particularly digestible to a general audience. It also increases the chances of ‘reporting fatigue’ for companies, which in turn could impact the overall perception of sustainability and ESG work in these organisations.
Opportunity – One of the primary purposes of these frameworks is to increase transparency for consumers and businesses when it comes to their environmental credentials. It’s a lot of data to sift through, but if you’re willing to put the work in it can be a fantastic opportunity to build trust with stakeholders and audiences. And the more engaging content, the better.
2 – Quiet please, we’re greenhushing
‘Greenhushing’ is the practice of businesses downplaying their sustainability credentials in an attempt to avoid backlash or scrutiny. In a year marked by global elections, and the increasing use of ESG as a wedge issue by politicians, it’s possible that we will see more companies shying away from discussing sustainability and ESG-related topics.
Challenge – Despite an increasingly vocal minority, most people do feel that businesses should be doing more to support the environment. The challenge for comms teams will be convincing colleagues and stakeholders that being open and enthusiastic about sustainability will produce long term gains, even with the possibility of some short-term turbulence.
Opportunity – Consumers like businesses that are seen to be standing up for what they believe in, especially in politically charged times. As communicators we should be brave and bold, and take the opportunity to deepen relationships with audiences.
3 – Embracing activists
Big problems inspire passionate activists, and this is certainly true of the ESG space. Climate activists are historically a class of influencer that businesses worry about engaging with – and many activists have high standards when it comes to working with brands – but there are rich rewards available to those willing to take the plunge.
Challenge – IIdentifying and collaborating with impactful ESG influencers requires careful consideration and a willingness to have brand sustainability processes and credentials scrutinised. Activist influencers will want to have a good understanding of not only what environmental targets are in place, but also the work that is ongoing to ensure they are met.
Opportunity – Done right, partnerships with ESG influencers can be game-changers. Whether it’s a renowned climate scientist endorsing your renewable energy initiatives, or a young climate activist highlighting your client’s commitment to sustainable supply chains, their credibility resonates with audiences, boosting your brand image and amplifying your impact.
4 – AI
2023 was the year of generative AI, with ChatGPT and many others bursting onto the scene to demonstrate this technology’s explosive potential. There’s no doubt AI will continue to be a major factor in 2024, but not one that is without controversy, especially from an ESG perspective.
Challenge – The more we learn more about how AI works the clearer it becomes clearer that this technology is incredibly resource-intensive. Recent estimates suggest that training a single generative AI model can consume as much as 284,000 litres of water, and use up to 656,347 kilowatt hours of electricity. This means that for every use of AI tech within their business, brands must be able to effectively communicate how they have considered the environmental impact and, ideally, how they have offset it.
Opportunity – Resource impact notwithstanding, AI does offer huge potential benefits for the ESG sector. AI’s ability to analyse huge amounts of data means it could be put to use for ESG reporting, or in helping to simplify ESG investing and make it more accessible to people trying to put their money towards sustainable causes.
If you’d like to discuss any of these opportunities in more detail, just drop us a note to firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to hear from you!