When it comes to investing in sustainable business behaviors and programs, more than half of corporate marketers and communicators believe that their organizations will increase their involvement in environmental sustainability initiatives during the next two to three years, according to a survey conducted by the American Marketing Association and Fleishman-Hillard. In addition, half of those surveyed believe that economic realities will actually encourage the adoption of sustainability practices.


The survey shows that 58 percent of marketing and communication leaders believe their companies will place more emphasis on developing corporate sustainability opportunities in the months ahead, despite the belt tightening that is happening in the business world.


“At a time when the economy requires everyone to stay focused on the essentials, it’s noteworthy that businesses are putting sustainability programs into that must-do column,” says Nancy Costopulos, chief marketing officer of the American Marketing Association. “It is a signal that the business community is embracing environmental sustainability in a way that this country has probably never seen before.”


More than half of those surveyed believe that sustainability is an essential element of their company’s reputation right now. Nearly three-quarters believe that corporate reputation, corporate culture and technological advancements will be the drivers for sustainability. The new administration’s policies will further accelerate the adoption of corporate sustainability programs, according to 63 percent of responders in the survey.


However, optimism is tempered with some smart realities. While the majority of companies will continue to invest in sustainability initiatives during the next year, how companies chose to communicate that commitment is mixed. About 43 percent of those surveyed expect their companies to increase marketing of their sustainability programs. They say they will do so because it is the right thing to do; customers are asking for more information; it is supportive of the corporate culture; and because sustainability offers a clear and distinct business advantage.


That said, more than half of the respondents do not expect to increase their storytelling in the category of sustainability.


“It is important that companies align their sustainability and business objectives internally, with engagement from management and employees, before communicating their goals externally,” says Aili Jokela, co-chair of FH Sustainability, a Fleishman-Hillard practice group specializing in environmental issues and corporate social responsibility. “Taking careful steps in building a communications program that correlates to a strategic plan and measurable operation improvements is extremely important for authenticity and credibility. Then, it’s time to communicate.”


Additional key findings from the study include:

·         More marketers and communicators (53 percent) define sustainability as the need to balance financial, human and natural resources for the long-term benefit of business and communities. Few define sustainability in terms of focusing on renewable energy resources (3 percent) or driving inefficiency out of the supply chain (10 percent).

·         Employees (82 percent) and customers (74 percent) are more likely to be the targets of communications about sustainability than are investors and analysts (52 percent).

·         Sixty-three percent believe that the new administration’s policies will further accelerate the adoption of sustainability programs.

·         Even the most popular sustainability programs—recycling (36 percent) and electric energy efficiency (20 percent)—are extensively embraced by only a minority of businesses.