Sustainability’s new era: beyond digital as a “channel” but the defining environment for engaging with the wider world
In this 7th edition of the research, we have seen the impact of two transformations: on the one hand, the adoption of materiality, integrated thinking and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have ensured that the response to social and environmental challenges has become a competitive factor for many businesses and key element for connecting with contemporary society; on the other hand, digital is forcing direct, real-time connections with stakeholders.
Our flagship European ranking examined members of the STOXX Europe 50 and STOXX Euro 50 indexes as well as leading European performers in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.
Sustainability & Digital: the central dilemma
There is a central dilemma when it comes to corporate sustainability and digital: the main engine of content generation – the once-a-year reporting process – is unsuited to digital. Reporting serves to collect and publish environmental, social and governance data for a given year, almost always in the form of a book-like document. Digital content, by contrast, needs to be planned with user engagement in mind: it has to be relevant (always) but also combine a mix of visual and textual formats, and capture attention through both rational exposition and emotional engagement. Above all, it has to be inserted into a wider, mobile friendly digital ecosystem.
Thankfully, there has been a shift. A greater maturity in the fields of both sustainability and digital communications has led to a better balance between what is presented and how and where it is presented. For the best companies, the focus is on why (what do you want to achieve through communications). Partly because of the shift to responsive website design (when the same content adapts to different sized screens), sustainability information is being pared down and simplified into easier-to-digest chunks and much more thought is going Attention (finally) turns to the digital stakeholder to different user-stakeholders beyond a small coterie of report-reading specialists.
In this new era for sustainability, digital has ceased to be viewed as a mere “channel” for communications but the defining environment for engaging with the wider world. As a result, we are seeing the conflation of traditionally separate categories like reporting, engagement and communications into a network of relationships built around shared concerns. The CSR Online Awards today aspires to trace those relationships.
James Osborne, Head of Sustainability, Lundquist
Best Performers: Europe 100
BASF, Orange & Eni are the best performers in this year’s ranking, with SAP our best improver, gaining an impressive 63 places to take joint 20th on 52 points.
Three macro trends stood out in the world of sustainability communications in Europe today:
Attention (finally) turns to the digital stakeholder
Many companies are moving beyond a disclosure driven approach to communications by boosting the use of video, visuals and storytelling, and integrating sustainability into the broader corporate narrative and social media conversation. One in four companies, however, still fails to provide the basic information necessary to underpin trust for the digital stakeholder. Surprisingly, leadership in sustainability performance (as measured by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index) doesn’t translate into leadership in communications.
Unlocking storytelling to underpin stakeholder trust
We’ve uncovered three elements of successful sustainability storytelling:
1) it should illustrate the substance of a company’s commitment to critical issues (materiality),
2) be coherent across the digital ecosystem
3) and use a careful selection of the most appropriate digital tools, brought to life through image and video
Joining the conversation: the challenge of engagement on social media
Sustainability has come of age as a topic of engagement for Europe’s biggest companies and is firmly part of the social media agenda, no longer just a passing reference or occasional campaign. Social and environmental topics have been incorporated into the social media agenda of many major companies: they appear in over a third of Facebook posts and a quarter of tweets. The really good news? These Facebook posts generate on average more engagement than other corporate content, and much more on Twitter.
ORDER YOUR CSR ONLINE AWARDS REPORT
The CSR Online Awards Report and Assessments offer a practical and rigorous way of measuring your performance against the best in digital sustainability at an international level. We enable you to find tactical solutions to enhance your digital presence, discover the approaches of winning companies, learn what trends to follow and identify strategic paths for the future.
We hold workshops where you can engage with our experts on all things related to sustainability communications. The workshops are also designed to find ways to foster greater involvement within the company.
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