Sustainability Communications in 2016

Ten predictions for some of the changes we’re likely to see in sustainability communications in 2016.

2016 will see the election of a new US President and the celebration of the Olympic Games in Rio.  It also marks the beginning of the Sustainable Development Goals and will see the announcement of indicators and national implementation programmes to complete the 15-year action plan for ‘people, planet and prosperity’.

Chart_of_UN_Sustainable_Development_GoalsCouple that with the high profile excitement of the COP21 climate summit in Paris in December and the pressure now on governments and industries to demonstrate how they will keep global warming well below 2ºC and it’s reasonable to assume there will be a lot of sustainability communications this year.

So what form will that communications take?  Here are ten predictions for some of the changes we’re likely to see in sustainability communications in 2016.

  1. Multinationals aligning their sustainability commitments and communications to the Sustainable Development Goals, especially following the announcement of the measurement indicators in March.  This will extend further to national operations as governments incorporate the goals into their planning and policy processes during the year.  This alignment makes sense, but companies will need to avoid clumsy post-rationalisations and cherry-picking certain of the 17 Goals at the expense of their overall impacts and opportunities
  2. Increased pressure on companies to demonstrate how they are reducing environmental impacts across their value chain following COP21 and the ready connections now being made across all media between extreme weather events and climate change
  3. Corporate Social Responsibility continuing to disappear as a descriptor for companies’ efforts to increase their positive social impacts and reduce their negative environmental ones.  More and more companies talking about purpose and mission in relation to sustainability
  4. Less talk of ‘licence to operate’ and more about the ‘opportunity to grow’ that good sustainability practices offer
  5. Bricks and mortar retailers using sustainability to offset the impact of online shopping on their businesses – from eliminating plastic bags to campaigns in-store to promote social and environmental causes
  6. Companies feeling increasingly secure in ‘business-first’ rhetoric in sustainability communications – the closer the link to business drivers, the more lasting their efforts can be
  7. Less ‘pity’ imagery and more positive story-telling to communicate the win-win-win of sustainability for people, planet and profits
  8. More employers communicating their sustainability credentials to attract talent – particularly aspirational millennials and the emerging Generation Z – and improve productivity in the workforce by engaging employees with a higher purpose
  9. Western governments and corporations being pressed to step up their own efforts on climate change by developments in China, with the government there increasingly being seen to act on climate change given the particular vulnerability of Chinese populations to its effects, and further acceleration in China’s position as a pioneer of low-carbon technologies
  10. And a more sensible debate in the US Presidential election once the primaries are concluded, signalling the beginning of the end of climate change denial