Because everyone now understands that it makes business sense, every week press releases are published by hundreds of businesses about their Sustainable Development or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plan.
Even if many of them demonstrate a will to make a difference, and even if it is exciting to see so many companies actively developing CSR and sustainable development programs, these press releases really are a waste of time.
Simply because no one cares.
It’s not that no one cares about their CSR and sustainable development efforts – we saw in previous articles that more and more employees and customers favor sustainable-conscious companies, especially among the Millennia generation -, it is because the news they publish are beside the point.
Businesses are referring to the things that are wrong through the mediums that are incorrect. Most businesses don’t know how to speak about CSR.
What’s more, a press release is among the least powerful way of sharing this type of info.
Take the example of the employee volunteer programs that are highly popular in these press releases.
Many corporations have an instinctive belief that offering is the “right” thing to do (morally) and it is a vital part of their CSR strategy.
Obviously, sustainable development is for many managers an uncharted territory - they do not know what to do with it and what to say about it.
“Most managers recognize that they don’t know how to communicate about sustainable development; when they do they use quantitative communication methods vs. qualitative,” says Jeffrey Sasch Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Rather than quantifying the specific gains, most firms report how much they spent serving food, cleaning parks, painting walls, giving courses and raising cash.
All these are not insignificant actions – they really can make a difference within the community they are servicing.
But they are only… tasks, a means to an end.
They are giving food to those who cannot afford to eat.
They are not fighting poverty.
They never explain the end of their actions – all we know about are the activities they are launching.
It makes you wonder: are they only developing activities ‘to do something,’ or do they have a master plan they don’t communicate about?
Let’s me explain what I mean:
When you board a plane to fly from point A to point B, you are surely not giving a minute of your time wondering how many hours the airline spent maintaining that plane.
You know that airlines have policies about aircrafts maintenance, so that they can fly safely, and you take for granted that the plane you are seating in was maintained as per these guidelines – whatever they are.
I fly a lot, and I must confess that the thought never crossed my mind.
But like any passenger, I am more concerned about punctuality, lost luggage, quality of service on board.
That kind of things.
I am more concerned about things that matter to me – not background technicalities.
Nevertheless, only when thinking specifically about it as we are doing now, I recognize the importance of aircrafts’ maintenance:
It is what makes flying one of the safest transportation means with millions of passengers every year crossing oceans and continents with an extremely low casualty rate – much lower than automobiles for instance.
Here’s the point:
As a customer, and as a casual press release reader, I am not interested in knowing how many hours the plane I am going to board spent in maintenance – I take for granted it is fit to fly safely.
What I care about is what matters to me: punctuality, good seat, good entertainment, good service.
Airlines understood that:
They never communicate about their planes’ maintenance log!
When companies communicate about their sustainable development program, why are they losing themselves – and their audience – in data no one cares about?
Customers are interested in hearing about the impact (punctuality) of corporations’ actions, not the input (maintenance log).
What most companies communicate about is how many trees their planted, how many tons of food they served, how many children they taught.
What is the long-term impact of these actions?
What is the master plan behind them?
If you’re simply quantifying productivity (this can be true with most businesses), it is likely that you are wasting valuable resources on improper actions:
Most sustainable development activities are decided to show the world that the company cares, without thinking about the long-term consequences.
For instance, giving classes to a limited number of children might go in the way of non-profit organizations who developed a comprehensive continuing educational strategy:
You think you do good but, at the end of the day, you are an annoying interference.
A major corporation – that we will not name, suffice to say it is in the oil industry -, is the perfect example of what should not be done.
They recently issued a press release to congratulate themselves about their sustainable development successes:
“Our employees volunteer program achievements are considerably greater than the corporate average as reported by the Boston College Center for Sustainability:
We achieved a whooping 49% during the month of October 2016!”
They go on, explaining how many children they educated, how many needy people they fed and how many trees they planted.
Now that you know, do you care?
I guess not because they don’t give you a good reason to care.
It might be a great internal news to tell their employees that they did a great job serving so many people and planting so many trees.
But what about the rest of us?
We would care if they would have told us the reason for planting these trees.
Maybe those trees need to be planted to correct weather instability due to uncontrolled deforestation; by planting them, they expect to reduce the landslides that killed so many people in recent years and months.
With that information, we would care and their sustainable development activities would make a lot of sense.
Companies need to think globally:
Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainable development activities always have impacts with short-, mid- and long-terms effects.
They should always be considered before deciding their next actions and learn to make their communication to the point:
Quality vs. quantity.
Impact vs. input.
Is your company sustainable development conscious?
Are they communicating efficiently?