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How to communicate about your sustainable achievements & progress

You've had an LCA, EPD, PEF, or CO2 footprint calculated for your products or organisation. How tocommunicate to your customers, stakeholders, or employees about the insights you've gained?

You've had an LCA, EPD, PEF, or CO2 footprint calculated for your products or organisation. Now, you want to inform your customers, stakeholders, or employees about the insights you've gained. How do you do that? How can an organisation communicate about its sustainable achievements, progress, and ambitions?

What sustainability communication offers you

According to the Sustainability Perception Index 2024, companies annually miss out on huge amounts due to not communicating effectively & accurately about sustainable achievements. Companies miss opportunities to attract customers (and revenue) with their sustainable achievements, and "incorrect communication" leads to reputational damage through accusations of greenwashing.

As many as 80% of Dutch consumers are concerned about the climate crisis. And more and more consumers consider the sustainable achievements of brands in their purchasing decisions. Therefore, it is interesting for both B2B and B2C to communicate transparently about sustainable achievements and future steps and ambitions. This way, you can differentiate yourself from the competition and profile yourself.

Sustainability is also a key theme among employees. The Intermediair Imago Research shows that 88 percent of employees prefer an organisation that pays attention to sustainability. Clarity about your sustainable achievements can therefore help with your 'employer branding'. Both in attracting new employees and retaining your current team. So, don't forget to share the insights from your impact report internally as well.

Clear communication about the environmental impact of your products can also motivate your suppliers to take action. The impact report provides insights into the sustainable achievements in your chain, and thus of your suppliers. This can be the start of a conversation. What can they do on their side to reduce their - and thereby your - environmental impact?

When talking about sustainability communication, there are subtle differences for B2B and B2C organisations.

Business to Business

The insights from your impact report enable you to make your business operations more sustainable. This also affects the sustainability performances of your customers; your sustainable achievements have a ripple effect through their supply chains.

By clearly communicating your environmental impact to your customers, you prove yourself as a valuable partner. You can help your customers achieve their sustainability goals. And with new sustainability legislation, such as the CSRD, more and more companies must report and reduce the impact of their operations demonstrably.

Certain information from your LCA study may be sensitive to competition and therefore you might not want to share it. In that case, you can have an ‘environmental product declaration’, or EPD, prepared. The EPD is a verified summary of the LCA report and omits all competition-sensitive information. Read more about what an EPD is here:

When calculating a CO2 footprint, the report is in principle always published. You can also have a concise version of this report created and verified by a third party, to ensure that certain sensitive information is not made public.

If you are working in the construction sector, your sustainability performances can provide advantages when submitting tenders or bids. The MKI score, or environmental cost indicator, is requested among others in public procurement. The MKI score is determined by assigning a monetary weighting to the different environmental impact categories from the results of your LCA study.

Business to Consumer

For B2C organisations, communication about sustainability performances has direct benefits for branding and marketing/communication. You can profile yourself and distinguish from competitors. You can also differentiate within your own product range between the sustainable performances of various products.

You can communicate about your sustainable achievements on your social channels, your website, and in your newsletter. And what about on your packaging? Keep in mind, however, to comply with existing guidelines/legislation to protect consumers against greenwashing and deception. Read more about this in the paragraph "Legislation and Regulation Surrounding Sustainability Communication."

Impression from an impact report

What and how to communicate from your impact report?

The impact analyses we conduct provide you with extensive and detailed insights into the sustainability performances of your company and/or delivered products or services. To communicate about these insights clearly, a translation is needed. And clear choices; which insights do you want to communicate? And which are less relevant? How do you communicate in a clear, comprehensive, and honest manner about something as complex as the impact of your activities?

This depends on who your customers are. Who are they? What do they already know? And what do they want or need to know?

By sharing the results with your employees/colleagues, you can involve them in your sustainable achievements. For them, the outcomes of the impact report are interesting; how does your product/organisation score on sustainability? For example, where does the largest environmental impact (=hotspot) come from? And what are the consequences of the insights; how are these taken into account in strategic decisions? And what will your employees notice in their own tasks?

  • For a B2B audience, it's interesting to communicate about the consequences for your customers. How does a 20% reduction in climate impact on your side, for example, affect the supply chain of your customers? Additionally, you can use the insights to differentiate yourself and convince leads that you add extra value. And to excite and retain current customers.
  • If you are a B2C organisation, you can distinguish yourself and convince consumers to choose your brand because you are actively taking steps towards more sustainability. An extensive investigation into your environmental impact is the perfect substantiation to communicate transparently about your environmental impact. With substantiated sustainability claims, you have a strong story to tell, moreover, a factual substantiation is mandatory if you make sustainability claims. And you can use the insights from the report to further reduce the impact of your organisation and be transparent about this to the market.

Below are 4 tips  how to communicate the insights from the impact report.

1. Make the insights understandable for your audience

International standards (ISO 14040 & 14044) apply to conducting LCA studies. And a CO2 footprint is calculated according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Thus, the reports are formal documents, delivered in a standardized format.

These reports are therefore full of technical terms and jargon, both related to these standards and specific jargon about your product or organisation. Communicate the results in clear language that your audience can understand. And support your conclusions with data where necessary. Can you share this data in an attractive (visual) way?

However, make your reports available for those who want to know more. If you make a claim about the sustainability performance of your product, according to the Guideline on Sustainability Communication by the Authority for Consumers & Markets, it is mandatory that you support this with current and factual evidence, and that it is clear where people can find this evidence.

Make figures concrete; tons of CO2 savings mean nothing to many people. Or figures about saved energy in kWh. Make it, for example, a percentage; “This year we used 25% less energy than last year”. Or translate saved energy into the equivalent for a number of households. Other, more tangible comparisons, that people can relate to, can also help.

2. Communicate the consequences, not just the results

You calculate an LCA or a CO2 footprint for a reason; probably, you also want to take steps to reduce the company's impact. Therefore, it's interesting to keep communicating about your progress. So, don't just communicate now about the insights from the impact report, but also about what you will do with these insights.

For example, are you switching to green energy? You can communicate that. Are you making adjustments to your production process based on the insights? Are you going to use different materials? That too can be communicated. Or if you make agreements with your suppliers on how they can reduce their impact. Sometimes, the insights lead to, for example, switching to another supplier to reduce your impact. These are all interesting points to connect with in your communication.

3. Keep your stakeholders continuously informed

Following the tip above; your communication shouldn't stop after delivering the impact report. Communicate about new steps, initiatives, or innovations you implement. For example, what's the status six months after delivering the impact report? What has changed in your product(ion process) or within your organisation? Have you received feedback from customers or stakeholders? What are the next steps you want to take? Occasionally provide an update or review of your sustainable progress.

Moreover, your audience is not static; you continuously gain new followers on your social channels. Therefore, it doesn't hurt to communicate repeatedly about your sustainable achievements. A repeated message is also more likely to stay with your audience. It's incredibly valuable to have had an impact report made. And its a shame to only communicate about it once.

4. Be transparent, honest, and realistic

Transparency is perhaps the most important condition for good communication about your sustainability performance. So that you are trustworthy and communicate sincerely. Your audience can quickly become suspicious if you make claims that are not credible or not substantiated. With your impact report, you can be completely transparent and factual about your sustainable achievements: make sure you tell everything, but don't exaggerate.

Sometimes, things go wrong in your steps towards more sustainability. You can also communicate about this; what went wrong? Why? What did you do then? If it is not possible for some reason to reduce a certain impact? By explaining and clarifying, your stakeholders understand why this is the case. And with that, you can also highlight where progress is possible. Or what you do to make your product more sustainable in other areas.

It's important that you communicate transparently, honestly, and realistically. To not mislead your stakeholders and avoid greenwashing. Greenwashing is making your product or organisation appear more sustainable than it actually is. More on this in the following paragraphs.

Impression from an impact report

Legislation and regulation surrounding sustainability communication

To protect consumers against greenwashing and deception, (inter)national guidelines and laws have been established that organisations must comply with in their communication.

Note: These regulations can also impact B2B organisations; your product, if marketed with a sustainability claim, can eventually reach consumers. For instance, your clients may use your product in the manufacture of an end-product sold to consumers. Additionally, your clients might utilise the product information or sustainability claims you provide in their communications towards consumers. So, even when the regulations originally aim to protect consumers; they can also be a good guideline for B2B-organisations who want to communicate in a correct way, free from accusation of misleading or greenwashing.

On a European level

- General environmental claims and other misleading product information are prohibited.

- Sustainability claims must be substantiated through environmental impact studies.

- Sustainability labels are only permitted if they are based on recognized certification programs or introduced by a governmental body.

- Information about guarantees must be more clearly displayed, and a new label will be introduced for products with an extended warranty period.

In the Netherlands

In The United Kingdom

If you are based in another country, look into the rules and guidelines prescribed by regulators there. Each country has its own interpretations and prescriptions in this area.

5 golden rules for correct sustainability communication

The code for sustainability advertising and the Guidelines on Sustainability Claims align seamlessly. Below are 5 practical golden rules from the Guidelines on Sustainability Claims that organisations can use to communicate clearly & correctly about sustainability:

  1. Use accurate, clear, specific, and complete sustainability claims.
  2. Substantiate your sustainability claims with facts and keep them up-to-date (for example, with your LCA study, CO2 footprint, or another impact report).
  3. Make fair comparisons with other products or competitors.
  4. Describe future sustainability ambitions in a concrete and measurable manner.
  5. Ensure that visual claims and certifications are helpful to consumers and not confusing.

These golden rules are further explained in the Guidelines on Sustainability Communication. (from the Dutch Authority for Consumers & Markets). You will also find helpful examples there. Keep this guideline as a checklist when working on your communication outputs.

What happens if you do not communicate clearly and correctly?

If you do not comply with the applicable laws and regulations, regulators are on the lookout, and consumers can file a complaint with the Advertising Code Foundation.

Online retailer Zalando was recently reprimanded by the ACM for misleading and unclear sustainability communication. Zalando must make adjustments to its communication and report on this. If this does not have sufficient effect, European regulators will proceed with formal enforcement.

In extreme cases, a lawsuit can be brought against you; this has happened to the airline KLM. The action group Fossil Free NL filed a case because some advertisements contained vague and general statements about environmental benefits. And an overly optimistic picture was painted about measures like the use of more sustainable fuel and reforestation projects. Such measures do not begin to outweigh the massive environmental impact of flying itself.

Correct sustainability communication is also high on the agenda at the European Parliament. In a recent press release, the parliament announced: "Companies that violate the rules (ed. arising from the green claims directive mentioned earlier in this article) can be temporarily excluded from public contracts, lose their income, and receive fines of at least 4% of their annual turnover."

Besides legal consequences, incorrect sustainability communication can cause reputational damage and loss of trust among your target audience. And that would be a pity because this is so easily preventable.

Panel review needed when you compare impact

Do you want to compare the impact of two products? For example, your own product and a benchmark from your market? Or two of your own, comparable products? Then have a comparative life cycle assessment (LCA) conducted, which will provide you with the insights you're looking for. And then you can communicate about this.

LCAs are conducted according to the internationally applicable standards ISO 14040 and 14044. And according to ISO 14044, it is mandatory that if you want to communicate the results of a comparative LCA study externally, you must have an LCA panel review conducted. The purpose of this panel is to ensure that the comparison has been carried out in a correct and fair manner. This primarily concerns the scoping and assumptions in the LCA study.

An LCA panel review consists of at least three panel members. The LCA expert and the client appoint a chairperson for the panel. Then, this chairperson selects at least two other external experts with relevant experience in the field of the products that are the subject of the LCA study. The panel checks the LCA study and provides written feedback.

Subsequently, one or more panel sessions are organized, in which all important aspects of the LCA study are discussed, debated, and where necessary, agreement is reached. This procedure concludes with a panel review report with a statement, signed by all members of the panel.

Read more about the LCA panel review in this article:

Background: what Insights does an impact report provide?

A life cycle assessment (LCA) or CO2 footprint provides you with detailed insights into the current state of sustainability of your product or organisation. The reports offer extensive insights into your energy consumption, emissions of greenhouse gases, and your impact in various impact categories (such as eutrophication, water consumption, acidification of soil and water but also toxicity).

Your so-called environmental hotspots become visible; the places in your product or organisation where the most impact occurs. With these insights, you can then take steps to reduce your impact. By making different choices and, for example, producing your product differently.

If you would like advice on communication surrounding sustainability, please contact Clara Kuindersma.

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