5 steps for crafting a powerful sustainability story

sustainability reporting; storytelling; CSR reporting; stakeholders investors customers,; non-financial reporting


Why a sustainability story?

Humans are not rational and do not make decisions in a logic way.

When faced with the need to decide on something, from a loaf of bread to a political candidate, people “go with their guts”: they strongly rely on their emotional feelings and they rarely build carefully considerate “ways to proceed” that include the pros, cons and variables in their heads.

When dealing with matters they’re not familiar with, instead of meticulously considering facts to fully unveil the unknown and make an informed decision, people tend to go with the most appealing option. As humans, we tend to support whatever position seems strong enough to trigger that “gut feeling”. We feel that something resonate with us, therefore it must be the correct choice.

And what gets into people’s guts: facts and numbers? Stats and graphics? Unfortunately not.

We do not all talk science and maths, and given the fast pace at which technology, social media platforms and shiny distracting tools are invading our lives, for dry and raw information to make its way into our brains (and guts!!) it could take forever.

It’s almost a translation exercise. Translators enable communication between people who speak different languages. They take an article written in French, and they make it readable and understandable for someone who speaks German.

In the same way, communication and sustainability professionals need to translate their raw data into compelling stories to engage investors, stakeholders and customers who do not have the knowledge, time and passion to process and understand these complex sets of numbers.

That’s why we sustainability professionals need to frame messages in a way that engages our audience. We need to create stories that touch our audience’s emotions.

What is a story and how can you create a compelling one?

In order to create a good narrative, you need to understand the structure of a story and reflect on the following points:

1. First of all, what do you want to say about your organisation?

You need to have a clear understanding of your sustainability strategy and goals in order to be able to communicate them to the world. What is it that you’re trying to achieve? Are you fighting to reduce waste? Are you working on engaging your employees to create behavioural change? Are you trying to improve your supply chains’ transparency? What makes you feel passionate about working for your organisation? Map out everything and list your priorities.

2. Do you have facts to back up your story?

We all agree that with a vivid imagination and great communication skills you could create a wonderful narrative from scratch. But you need to back up your story with quantifiable data to gain credibility. Do you have them? Is your data robust? Do they reflect your narrative? This is what distinguishes a genuine communication strategy from a mere green-washing technique: in the long run, people will find out if you’ve been honest.

3. Who has the information?

Now that you’ve made sure you have facts to back up your story, you need to retrieve them. Have you identified who owns them within the organisation? It could take time to find out those numbers, so a proactive and timely approach is key.

Now, consider the 2nd and 3rd point very carefully. Finding the data needed to back up your story is no easy feat, especially if your organisation is a huge corporation with operations spread all over the world. Data ownership (who is responsible for collecting and communicating the data?), accuracy and timeliness represent aspects that need to be taken into account and that if not properly handled, can set you back and nullify all your efforts to date.

In order to overcome data-related challenges, you might want to consider your data collection and management processes in the first place. What are you using to collect your data? Are you relying on spreadsheets or do you have a system in place? Spreadsheets can be great, but not the best option for a big business. Frankly said, a software solution would be your best bet.

4. How do you integrate your data with your strategy and what you’re trying to achieve?

Now, that’s very important to make your story valuable. Your data will (or at least should) reflect your strategy and your business goals. How do you go on integrating those numbers? Unless you have an audience of data geeks, you’ll want your data to support your story without being the led-motif of it, so you’ll need to get creative and adventurous. Your story will need to brings facts to life and resonate with your audience making your story memorable.

How? Again a software solution can help. There are lots of options on the market that will allow you to automatically integrate data into reports ensuring alignment to frameworks and standards and translating all the above in graphical and easy-readable material to help you communicate your story.

5. How can you create compelling output?

With all the more technical aspect been cared for by a system designed to do so, you could finally focus on making your story persuasive. Think about your audience. What are their passion points? Talking about money savings might be better than talking about energy efficiency. Think like your audience would and consider what’s important to them. What do they care about? Think about your attitude too: are you considering sustainability as your secret weapon? Companies that embed sustainability into their core and engage with their audience about it do perform better.

All this been said, it’s time for us to tell you a story!

Transforming data in powerful stories – SITA’s case study

SITA is a global information technology company providing IT and telecommunication services to the air transport industry. The company operates across over 200 countries, employs nearly 5000 people, and provides its services to over 400 members and almost 3000 customers worldwide, accounting for about the 90% of the world's airline business.

Being such a complex organisation, means they have a considerable responsibility to demonstrate CSR leadership, particularly in response of their stakeholders’ pressure over the need to implement and lead an effective and successful sustainability programme.

For Amber Harrison, SITA’s director of corporate social responsibility, this was by all means not an easy challenge.  As a “one woman band” without a system in place, she had a really hard time in designing an effective strategy whilst running after data that could help her understand where they were starting from and what direction they could take.

But Amber wasn’t really willing to give up, and decided that the manual collection process wasn’t really helping their cause, in 2015 approached SustainIt to get support in selecting and implementing a sustainable software system that could enable SITA to move forward.

Having a centralised cloud based data organisation system made a huge difference for the organisation and Amber herself: she was finally able to reach out to remote areas and operations, to ensure timely data collection, to increase data accuracy and reliability, and to finally focus on her programme and strategy.

Furthermore, the system enabled her to rely on automation to calculate KPIs and carbon footprint, and to map progress against targets, which made it possible for her to translate those data in a compelling narrative that engaged and satisfied their stakeholders’ need for improved sustainability performance.

Following the implementation, SITA not only achieved, but exceeded their CSR targets for 2016.

Needless to say we feel very honoured to have supported Amber and the organisation in achieving such a great result.

Does it sounds like you?

Does this story of missing and unreliable data sounds familiar to you? We can help.

From selecting the right sustainability software for your organisation to ensuring the accuracy of your data, we can support you in going that extra mile to smash all your targets and become a leader in the CSR reporting world.

If you’re just at the beginning of your sustainability journey and you’re thinking about getting a software system like Amber did, you might find our free online comparison tool GoMarketWise really helpful: by answering a few questions, you’ll be able to start to identify the software solutions that better care for your business’ needs.

For anything else, give us a call on 0117 325 4168 or send us an email at info@sustainitsolutions.com. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Giulia Danielis

UK Office:

Unit 5.3 Paintworks, Bath Road,
Bristol BS4 3EH

Tel: +44 (0)117 325 4168


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