All talk and no action

By Beth Gaudin

Sustainability is a constantly evolving discipline. The buzz words, the must-do actions, the petitions to sign, the initiatives to engage with, are changing and growing in number all the time. It can be hard to keep up, and it can feel even harder to sound like you’re keeping up. But how important is it, really, to know the lingo when it comes to sustainability?  

Like any industry, sustainability has its fair share of buzz words and acronyms that can seem almost impenetrable to the uninitiated. Of course, it’s also a way for those wishing to look like they’re in the know to stand out. Indeed, sustainability itself as a term, doesn’t have a meaning that everyone agrees on. For some it infers a focus on the environment while for others it encompasses every aspect of how an organisation is futureproofing itself and those around itDitto for net zero, which has no centrally agreed meaning about which emissions are or are not included in the scope. 

Of course, sometimes precision can be important when talking about these issues, but too often jargon is used to conceal the fact that little action is actually taking place. It can mean conversations talk around an understanding of the issues, rather what’s happening to address them.

So, as with any fashion, it really isn’t about what everyone is wearing (or doing or saying). It’s about what suits you. Working with your organisational priorities, your expertise and your ambitions is always going to achieve better results than jumping on any bandwagon. When we work with our clients in the development of a sustainability (or CSR, or CR) strategy, our starting point to communications is what is relevant and engaging for that organisation and its stakeholders, regardless of the latest buzz term.  Once the activity has been mapped, a clearer understanding of strengths to build on and weaknesses to bolster can be seen. From there initiatives and goals can be built. Of course, the passion of employees – especially the c-suite – can be vitally important in the development of focus areas. But, if it doesn’t also help you achieve your organisational objectives, at least tangentially, it’s likely to fail.

That’s not to say that keeping up with the trends isn’t useful but it is to allow yourself permission to break the mould. The most engaging way to invite and involve others into taking action is likely to avoid technical buzz words altogether – a sustainability strategy that speaks to individuals about what they care about and why it matters. Ultimately, it can feel good to be part of the ‘in-crowd’ and sometimes your stakeholders will demand that you speak the language they are hearing and using. But what it’s vital that we don’t lose sight of organisational and individual relevance and use that as the starting point to drive action. Sustainability is all about making a real, tangible difference to the world, however you chose to talk about it.

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