I had the opportunity to attend Communicating Sustainability 2010, a conference organized by Communitellegence and hosted by Applied Materials that focused on “integrating green and responsibility into your organizations DNA.” The gathering’s intimate flavor and smaller size was refreshing and allowed for meaningful dialogue.

The agenda focused on sustainability communications, employee engagement and stakeholder engagement, as well as metrics and managing data. A highlight was the opportunity to hear directly from sustainability professionals in the trenches from companies such as eBay, McKesson, SAP, Sprint and Applied Materials.

While many solutions were discussed, three communications best practices stood out for me:

  • Start a conversation with employees
  • Deliver CSR reports in a web-based format
  • Use video and humor to educate employees on sustainability

Start a conversation with employees

Nicolette van Exel, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP presented an overview of SAP’s sustainability strategy, which integrates two important roles. The company differentiates themselves by providing sustainability solutions to help customers run leaner operations. But they can’t do that without being a role model, focusing on how to be a more sustainable company. She stressed that part of modeling sustainability is about the conversation. “What should the conversation be about?,” asked Gil Friend, President and CEO of Natural Logic and one of the conference keynote speakers. SAP has started asking employees, “What does sustainability mean to you? What should it mean to SAP? How do you engage personally on sustainability?” One consistent message that came back from SAP employees is that everyone wants to engage personally, consistent with their own personal belief system. Mobilizing employees is important. Yet the secret formula for how to increase engagement and measure social impact are elusive in the imperfect science of shifting cultures.

eBay has had great success with their Big Green Idea contest where employees were encouraged to suggest ideas for how eBay could go green (I covered thisĀ  in a post on eBay’s best green team practices).

Deliver CSR reports in a web-based format

Several of the speakers stressed the importance of starting with strategy, them moving into execution, before launching into communications. Christine Arena, co-Founder and CEO of sparkUP, suggested making CSR reports an interactive conversation by utilizing video or holding live web casts to create a dialogue.

Since not everyone will read a long CSR report, which can be expensive and time-intensive to prepare, what are the other options to a traditional report? A new trend mentioned is to wrap CSR data into the annual report, beginning the process of embedding sustainability into all communications. Another growing trend is to create an interactive web site that shares sustainability success stories. Both Symantec and SAP have created web-based CSR reports, which I find much easier to interact with and digest than a 60-page report.

Use video and humor to educate employees on sustainability

In addition to local engagement initiatives, Laura Rodormer, Director of Corporate Citizenship at McKesson, shared details on McKesson’s enterprise wide sustainability initiatives. With a strategic focus on paper reduction, she shared a video that is part of its sustainability communications strategy, using humor to educate employees on the benefits of not printing in color. They created a “paper super hero” to inspire and engage employees (the clip in on its intranet, thus can’t be shared here).

Judah Schiller, Co-founder and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S wrapped things up with a lively closing keynote he titled “activating companies for good: the Trojan horse of social responsibility.” He described a future where employees write a major portion of CSR reports and where employees are energized, informed and activated. The day concluded with the video Josh’s Band and challenged the room, “Get everyone to play the song.”


Deborah Fleischer is President of Green Impact, a strategic environmental consulting practice that helps companies engage employees, strengthen relationships with stakeholders, launch profitable green initiatives and communicate about their successes and challenges. Check out our new green team tool, Corp Green.

Sustainability Consulting Bay Area

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