How great ESG content helps businesses rise above a sea of green

With ESG now such a focus for consumers and investors, we look at some great examples of firms using content to highlight their sustainability credentials and stand out from the environmental pack

Greenwashing – the practice of making misleading claims about a company’s environmental credentials – is becoming a huge problem. It’s a headache for regulators and consumer bodies trying to stamp out false marketing practices, but it is also a challenge for firms that are making a genuine effort to do well by doing good. The sheer amount of greenwashing makes it harder for consumers and investors to make informed choices at a time when both are showing more concern about the impact of their money.

As we head into a critical decade in the battle to counter global warming, Larry Fink, BlackRock chief executive, wrote in his annual letter to CEOs this year that “no issue ranks higher than climate change”, pointing to the big rise in environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing. In the UK consumers spend more than £41 billion on sustainable products a year. Research from Fidelity, meanwhile, shows that companies with good ESG policies and ratings increasingly outperform those that do not. All of which means that for businesses, adopting ESG best practices and making them known has become vital.

Lots of companies have turned to content, often in the form of blogs, reports or graphics, to try to do this. But so many approaches lack imagination. And without being sufficiently unusual or radical to stand out from the crowd, they are noticed only by a few. Taking the time and thought to plot an innovative approach can pay significant dividends, cutting through the noise to generate attention and all-important visibility where it really matters. Here are five of the best examples where companies have done just that.

  • Nike: Just Do It

Whereas some companies try to hide exactly what is going on under the bonnet, Nike has bitten the bullet and gone for full transparency along its entire value chain, from suppliers to disposal and waste. It explains that to minimise its environmental footprint, it needs to understand – and analyse – what the impacts are and where they occur.

But rather than bury these figures in dry reports, it has developed an interactive circular data visualisation that shows how each bit of its business affects its environmental footprint in respect of CO2 and water. In the surrounding blurb it says it plans to expand the graphic to include its chemistry footprint, too. Bonus points for clarity and originality.

  • Deutsche Bank: A fresh perspective

The rise in ESG investing offers great opportunities for banks, particularly those with a wealth arm. Deutsche Bank realised that to sound credible and stand out from its competitors, it needed to reach out to professionals beyond the world of finance for fresh insights into the impact of investing.

Its answer has been to produce two truly interesting podcasts under the banner Future Fundamentals. One explores the impact of ESG on healthcare investment; the other brings together a marine biologist and the bank’s chief investment officer to discuss how biodiversity loss fundamentally threatens the financial system and why an ESG approach to portfolio management is the best response.

The podcasts are not only relevant to high-net-worth investors (its target market), but also interesting to the wider public, making them more akin to a radio programme than a piece of marketing material.

  • Intesa Sanpaolo: Highlighting solutions

While Deutsche Bank has made great content that speaks to its customers about what they should be aware of when investing, Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s largest retail bank, has taken a broader approach. Under the banner World, a corner of its website features infographics discussing the importance of the circular economy – where waste is designed out as much as possible, and recycling and regeneration prioritised – and how the bank is helping its business customers develop more sustainable practices.

Its punchy animated infographic on the fashion industry, for example, wastes no time setting out the harm that clothing production wreaks on the environment, explaining that fast fashion is fast destroying the natural world. But it also explores easy lifestyle changes that will make a measurable difference. For example, it points out that if everyone bought just one second-hand item of clothing a year it could be the equivalent of planting 66 million trees and saving 1.25 billion showers-worth of water. Showing the solution as well as the problem is certainly a winner.

  • Tesla: Being honest about its lack of diversity

Most sustainability reports focus on the E of ESG – the environment and progress made towards emissions reduction targets. Where there is a mention of social or governance, it is usually to do with community projects and giving back. Rarely does diversity get a look in, which is why Tesla’s report makes it on to our list. Just as the company is leading the way with electric vehicle development, so it is with transparency about its workforce.

The company’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Impact Report stands out for not ducking what could be seen as unflattering statistics. Headlines post-publication certainly focused on the fact that its leadership, as in so many other companies, is pale and male (just 4 per cent is black), but the fact that it is willing to publish and outline the action it is taking to encourage talented people from all backgrounds to join the company should be lauded. And since when did Elon Musk care about adverse headlines?

  • Hellmann’s: TV gold

The tag line for Hellmann’s Mayonnaise is ‘always on the side of food’. This spring it’s been on the side of wasting less food. Where brands are usually simply sponsors of a TV series, this year Hellmann’s owner Unilever went one step further. A four-part TV series on Channel 4 with Prue Leith and Dr Rupy, called Cook Clever Waste Less, was supported by a website positively bulging with food waste hacks, tips of the week and facts about food waste. Given that 60 per cent of the food produced in the UK ends up in landfill, reducing that would have a significant impact on emissions.

Not only does the Hellmann’s content send out great messages that help the environment, but it has also done a fabulous job of promoting Hellmann’s. The TV show has been highlighted in best shows to watch and garnered plenty of positive articles from the clickbait-happy Daily Mail to ad industry trade bible Campaign. Gold Michelin star to Hellmann’s.

Thinking differently

While these examples are from big-name companies, the principles of transparency about what you are doing and trying to present that in an engaging, informative and compelling way can be applied universally. Good ESG content doesn’t have to suck up massive resource and smaller companies can also make their mark.

Key is focusing on the right angle for each business, whether that’s what local businesses are doing for local people, green technology development and its impact, or putting the spotlight on pioneering individuals.

Good ESG practices will help save the planet. Good ESG content, meanwhile, distinguishes truly sustainable businesses from the pack, helping to magnify and multiply their impact. It really is a case of read all about it.