Value through Transparency

Corporate 'Greening'

The third way to communicate about sustainability is called Corporate ‘Greening’: PR and external communications about a company’s sustainability efforts. Companies choose different routes in this area. Some are very vocal about their intentions and achievements, while others prefer to keep a low profile, for fear of being challenged and accused of greenwashing.

In the long term, the best results are achieved through honesty and transparency, by acknowledging current shortcomings, communicating improvement plans, and regular progress reports.

There are multiple channels through which companies can communicate about sustainability. The most important ones are sustainability programs & reports (covered under step 5: Performance), affiliation with associations, and cooperation with NGOs.

Companies can choose to join associations to express their concern for environmental issues, and/or to use these platforms to influence regulations. These associations can be sector-specific or cross-industry. An example of a sector initiative is Responsible Care, established by the chemical industry to stimulate the development of sustainable chemistry. Cross-industry associations that cover a broad range of sustainability issues include global organizations like the UN Global Compact and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and local organizations such as ‘De Groene Zaak’ (The Green Cause) in the Netherlands.

The impact of membership on a company’s reputation is dependent upon the reputation of the association, which is in turn dependent on how demanding the membership requirements are, and other factors, such as the variety of different stakeholder groups involved. In most cases, membership of these organizations helps to protect against reputation damage, but it rarely offers competitive advantage. It can even lead to bad press, for example if members engage in activities that are at odds with the purpose of the association, e.g. lobbying against environmental legislation, or if they change their minds and leave the organization. As an illustration, since its establishment in 2007, several fossil fuel companies have pulled out of the US Climate Action Partnership, an alliance that has been pushing for climate legislation, for which these companies have received substantial criticism.

Cooperation with NGOs
In recent years, old ‘us-versus-them’ juxtapositions between businesses and environmental NGOs have dissipated, with NGOs realizing that business is instrumental in building a more sustainable economy, and companies accepting that environmental issues are important for future competitiveness. As a result, more and more companies actively cooperate with NGOs, through dialogue or membership of NGO initiatives like the WWF Climate Savers program, under which companies establish ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.