While firms are successfully developing sustainability initiatives in China, the “telling of their sustainability story”, which is the communication of these initiatives – whether internally or externally – is often overlooked. And yet these stories can lead to a culture of volunteerism, encourage innovation, build a brand, and drive market share.
The purpose of the May 18th executive workshop in Beijing on “Telling Your Sustainability Story” was to help communications, PR, and sustainability professionals to understand and anticipate how to better build social capital with their stakeholders, and joining the session to share their own experiences were Boyong Yuan, Head of Sustainability at Bayer, and Bo-ning Yang, Senior Advisor at Ruder Finn.
Bo-ning started by referring to the previous BBAU session on “Millennials & Sustainability” when he spoke about how millennials are super connected, use significantly more social media, and are more actively engaging with social, environmental, or political affairs. Millennials – both young professionals and students – are therefore already primed for sustainability stories from brands.
He then continued to explain how the old model of sustainability communications is being replaced, that social and environmental issues must now be seen as strategic business issues and that it is no longer just about reputation, but it is now acceptable to expect an economic return for contributing to societal solutions.
Boyong shared about his experience from working on Bayer’s programs, and how for professionals working at multinationals in China, it is important to bring China stories to global HQ to help them understand the local issues and get global buy-in for local initiatives.
Boyong also advised participants that content is already available in their business, but also externally, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which any company or brand can align with (at least one goal of the 17) and leverage for a story of their own.
Key Takeaways for Sustainability Storytelling
Through a simple case study on the automotive industry, participants were asked to split up and develop their own sustainability story on road safety in Beijing. Given only 15 minutes to work through the exercise,
- Understanding stakeholders and their priorities are key for effective storytelling and impact, but to understand the most effective mediums for delivering the message, it is imperative to understand the habits of principal audiences.
- Given the issues of sustainability will resonate with different audiences at different levels, it is vital that the story addresses a local issue, local participation or local impact. Otherwise, the message goes ignored, and the opportunity for engagement will be lost.
- While the budget is always limited, some of the best ways to deliver an influential story are through short videos, shot on smartphones, or infographics that consolidate key data and thoughts without the cost of development or editing that a sustainability report would require.
Through this luncheon, if there was one message that was clear it was that effectively telling your sustainability story helps to build social capital and long-term growth. To highlight this point, Bo-ning told the story of the LA Riots in 1992, where shops and streets were demolished by the crowds of people, however, McDonald’s stores all over the rioting area were left untouched because of the social capital they had built by providing jobs and community.
More recently in China, Starbucks’s announcement that they will now offer insurance coverage for their employees’ parents shows that they have a deep understanding of the local strains of a growing elderly demographic on people and are providing a solution that has given them positive PR favor in China. And they have been able to effectively tell that story to their key internal and external stakeholders to drive significant positive discussions and media coverage.
Upcoming events in Shanghai:
BBAU May Workshop – Telling Your Sustainability Story – May 23rd
BBAU May Young Professional Forum – Telling Your Sustainability Story – May 23rd
Upcoming events in Beijing:
BBAU June Workshop – Materials & Waste – Date TBC
If you have any questions about the Beyond Business as Usual series, please get in touch with Charlie[@]coresponsibility.com