Climate change and business risk
White Paper: Multi-level communications strategies Page 4 Is water the new carbon?
A new model for engagement
The web as a consultation tool
You can forget the idea that a low-carbon future will be boring and dull, it can be exciting, as aspirational as we want, so let’s make it happen. WILL DAY Chairman, Sustainable Development Commission
IMS Consulting delivers communications programmes on sustainability and corporate responsibility. We work extensively in the energy and environment sectors, and the closelyassociated areas of water, waste and the built environment. Clients engage IMS Consulting on a local, national and global basis. Our staff are all skilled at communicating, as well as possessing detailed knowledge of the issues that make up the sustainability agenda for today’s businesses. Communicating Sustainability provides readers with inside knowledge on stakeholder engagement, online information delivery and, of course, communications.
COMMUNICATING SUSTAINABILITY Delivering Change Designed to help organisations understand and implement communications more effectively, Communicating Sustainability is a collection of white papers and articles, produced by staff at IMS Consulting.
The journey to sustainability has no arrival point. It is a question of continuous improvement, testing ideas, challenging outcomes and improving performance. Sustainable policies and practices may improve a company’s licence to operate, but if the actions aren’t properly communicated they certainly won’t be as effective. The articles in Communicating Sustainability help explain how to communicate, to whom and when. In this issue, IMS Consulting’s Dr Richard Westaway looks at the role of stakeholder engagement in risk management; and why businesses that engage and communicate effectively may actually be better prepared for climate change. The web now plays a central role in delivering information, as well as gathering opinion. (IMS Consulting’s StakeholderTALK online engagement toolkit is a good example.) Two articles by IMS Consulting staff Roxanne Ratcliff and Clare Dixon – on pages 10 and 11 – discuss the move to online and the potential benefits this brings. Innovative Engagement is the subject of Mike King’s article. As exchief executive of The Environment Council, Mike is well-placed to explain where stakeholder engagement is taking us. Elsewhere in Communicating Sustainability, Elaine Coles reports on the idea that water is the new carbon, Graham Sprigg looks at how to develop a multi-level communications strategy and Erika Roshdi explores the importance of evidence databases in her article, Delivering Proof of Best Practice. We hope you find these articles and white papers helpful in building and developing the way your organisation communicates with customers, suppliers, employees; in fact with all its stakeholders. IMS Consulting is here to help: whether you need to take a fresh look at the way your Corporate Responsibility is reported, want to improve engagement with stakeholders, need to undertake market research or are looking for guidance on aspects of communications relating to sustainability. n IMS CONSULTING 2010
Climate Change and Business [ Dr Richard Westaway ] Climate change is expected to expose businesses and other organisations to a range of new risks and opportunities. An important strategy for managing risks and exploiting opportunities involves stakeholder engagement and communication. This article examines how a business that engages and communicates effectively with its stakeholders might be better prepared for climate change. It also explores some of the ways in which engagement and communication around climate change issues are occurring in practice.
The challenges created by climate change are complex and wide-ranging, and the processes for dealing with them efficiently are still evolving.
A changing climate for business Climate change has become an important issue for businesses. Increasing regulation in the shape of government targets and legislation will mean that there is greater need to measure and reduce the carbon emissions. At the same time, businesses and organisations are recognising that they will need to manage the physical, social and economic impacts of a changing climate and the transition to a low carbon economy. Consequently, many companies have started to include consideration of climate change in their business planning Climate change will expose all businesses to an array of risks and opportunities. Some of these will be common across all business sectors, while others will be organisation-specific, depending on where the business is, what they are doing and what their priorities are. Many risks and opportunities are already present, including the opening up of new markets and services (e.g. low carbon solutions), emergence of new legislation (e.g. the CRC Energy Efficiency scheme) and the occurrence of climate-related impacts (e.g. increased incidence of flooding). However, the future evolution of risks and opportunities related to climate change is hard to quantify, making it difficult to include in formal business and strategy planning. Furthermore, the emergence of ‘new’ risks and opportunities makes it problematic to make judgements based on past experience. Given this blend of certainty (that there are risks and opportunities) and uncertainty (about their nature and scope), engaging the relevant communities of interest (or stakeholders) is often considered key to success. Stakeholders bring different perspectives, values and expectations that can help a business build a better understanding of the nature and scope of the climate risks and opportunities, and how best to approach them. Ensuring that a broad range of perspectives is IMS CONSULTING 2010
considered increases the likely acceptability, as well as the effectiveness, of any proposed actions. Consequently, stakeholder engagement and communications are becoming a critical element of how businesses address climate change.
How engagement and communication might help Climate change is a new and evolving issue. It is inevitable that businesses don’t have all the right answers (no-one does), and only by trying different approaches – and crucially asking and sharing what worked and what didn’t – can they develop robust solutions. For this communication is essential, to share good practice and showcase successes. Climate change requires champions, pioneers who are willing to innovate and push established boundaries. Pioneering businesses must also use their position to challenge others, and this is only achieved by communicating where they are going, why they are going there and what barriers they have overcome on the way. Communication of climate change efforts and progress can also help distinguish a business from the competition and offers opportunities to gain competitive advantage. Many CSR and environmental indices require clear communication of businesses’ views and actions on climate change, and the outcome of pre-qualifications and tenders is increasingly dependent on evidence that climate change challenges are being addressed in practice. Communicating what a business is doing on climate change – how risks are minimised, opportunities exploited and solutions developed – is a crucial element of attracting attention and improving their reputation. Conversely, with high levels of public awareness and concern about climate change, any business that is not communicating what it is doing effectively might be seen as a business that is doing nothing.
Engagement and communication in practice There are many reasons for and ways in which businesses may choose, or are in some cases required, to engage with stakeholders and communicate progress on climate change. One reason is to inform staff and other stakeholders about internal activities. An important component of communications on climate change is simple awareness raising. This might include awareness of what climate change means, how it impacts on a business, what measures have already been taken, which staff are responsible and what future initiatives are planned. Such communications might be directed at staff, particularly where an organisation is comprised of multiple divisions or units, or might be intended for external stakeholders such as suppliers and clients. Typically, these communications might take the form of a regular newsletter or dedicated micro-site. Sustainability reviews, CSR reports and annual reports also now frequently report progress on climate change. Organisations may also want to educate staff about external developments. With climate change and related topics constantly in the news, it is sometimes difficult (and certainly time-consuming) for staff to untangle important and useful stories from the background noise. Filtering and delivering targeted climate change news and intelligence has become an increasingly useful exercise, to ensure that staff are aware of any important developments that might affect the business. The availability of news feeds means that relevant climate change news can be captured and delivered to staff, for example via a dedicated page on a company’s intranet. Most businesses will have particular activities and actions associated with climate change that they are proud of, but not all of
IMS Consulting People
DR. RICHARD WESTAWAY
Richard is an environmental scientist with particular interest in climate change. After gaining his PhD at Cambridge University, Richard worked for multidisciplinary consultants Halcrow and the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP). Prior to joining IMS Consulting, he had a visiting scientist position at CSIRO in Australia.
Climate change requires champions, pioneers who are willing to innovate and push established boundaries.
them necessarily communicate this effectively to their stakeholders, so another aspect of communicating climate change is reporting best practice and celebrating successes. Reporting best practice is particularly powerful for businesses that are project-based, as it allows successful aspects of different projects to be showcased. Establishing a central set of case studies, that can be searched and downloaded by staff and external stakeholders alike, is a relatively straightforward but effective way of demonstrating real evidence of progress made in addressing climate change. Stakeholder dialogue can also facilitate business planning. Anticipating the risks and opportunities presented by climate change has become an important part of business planning. Which risks and opportunities are considered significant or important varies considerably from business to business, making it crucial to engage staff, management and stakeholders. Successful engagement can help a business better understand and evaluate which climate change risks and opportunities it is exposed to, and encourage discussion about how to prioritise and incorporate them in business planning. As well as traditional risk assessments, more novel communication methods can be deployed, including scenario development exercises which help build up visions of future society and help businesses identify where they want to be. An important benefit to be gained from communicating with stakeholders is to understand their views on climate change by undertaking stakeholder research. This ensures that a business can remain responsive to its stakeholders’ needs. Surveys of suppliers, customers or other stakeholder groups may help reveal what those groups really think about a company, its efforts to address environmental issues like climate change, perceived areas of weakness, and its performance relative to its competitors. There are an increasing number of third parties who evaluate business performance relating to sustainability and climate change. For this reason, many organisations now report information to third party certification groups. Some schemes (like the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme) are mandatory, others (like the Carbon Disclosure Project) are voluntary, but many result in a public evaluation of a company’s performance on climate change relative to its competitors. Demonstrating progress on climate change can help distinguish businesses from the competition both positively and negatively. This
places importance on preparing a clear and accurate submission, ensuring that all the relevant information is communicated effectively. Finally, businesses may choose to engage in communication to influence the behaviour of external stakeholders. Through effective communication, businesses have the power to provide leadership on climate change and effect wider behavioural change. This could be through internal policy initiatives, such as requiring suppliers to sign up to a particular climate change pledge or agreement. Alternatively, it might be through a wider public campaign or manifesto that aims to both promote the efforts of a business while challenging competitors or the public to make similar changes.
Putting communications at the centre of the process The challenges created by climate change are complex and wideranging, and the processes for dealing with them efficiently are still evolving. Stakeholder engagement and communication are increasingly central to effective management of climate risks, yet from IMS Consulting’s experience, are still commonly perceived as “optional extras” or “bolt-ons”. In some cases, after spending considerable time and resources developing strategies and solutions for climate change, businesses then communicate them poorly to their stakeholders. In others, the strategies and solutions may themselves have been improved had stakeholder engagement occurred earlier in the process. Instead, engagement and communication needs to be viewed as an important part of the process, sharing and improving businesses’ climate change intentions, actions and outcomes. What is less clear is who should take on the responsibility for developing and implementing communications strategies relating to climate change. Sustainability managers and officers, who understand the issues and the need for stakeholder engagement, would not be expected to have extensive communications experience or know what tools are available. Conversely, dedicated communications and PR staff might typically have relatively little experience of stakeholder engagement and no in-depth understanding of climate change issues. What results is a ‘knowledge gap’ between those who know about climate change and those who know about communications. For some organisations, this gap might hinder their future progress on climate change. It is a gap that IMS Consulting can help close. n IMS CONSULTING 2010
Developing Multi-level Communications Strategies [ Graham Sprigg ] Although many organisations have made a public commitment to improving the sustainability of their operations, few are communicating their intentions and progress clearly to their target audiences. Clear communication with customers, staff, suppliers and other influencers – stakeholders – plays an important part in the success of a business or enterprise. Communication strategies that involve and engage multiple stakeholders, delivering messages relevant to groups within a target audience, should be properly planned and developed. Identification of stakeholder groups, clear messaging and subsequent analysis of the opinions formed provide valuable opportunities to strengthen an organisation’s licence to operate. Improving the understanding and knowledge of important and influential third parties enables an organisation to perform effectively and profitably, while increasing the transparency with which it operates. There are five important points to consider when developing a strategy for multi-level communications on sustainability. 1 Begin by identifying the audience(s) 2 Ensure that the messages are relevant and understandable 3 Select a method (medium) of communication that will deliver the message most efficiently and effectively 4 Include proof statements; showing your achievements 5 Obtain feedback
impossible to channel messages, with any degree of certainty, to one stakeholder group while excluding others. Secondly, the internet now means that when something is published, it has the potential of being in the hands of everyone around the world within seconds. There is little point in trying to restrict information to certain stakeholder groups. Messages destined for suppliers will find their way to customers; those aimed at investors will end up with the media. This need not be a problem, particularly where information on achievements or policies related to sustainability are concerned (there should be no secrets) but it is an important consideration in terms of message content and context.
Decide What You Mean by Sustainability The biggest problem with communicating messages related to sustainability is the word itself. What does it actually mean? How do customers, co-workers or suppliers interpret it? (More importantly, how does the organisation in question?). The word has been hijacked by marketeers. The concept and meaning of sustainable development is still not widely understood, yet the phrase appears in everything from in-flight magazines to double glazing advertisements. As a result, the word sustainability is likely to have very different meanings, depending upon the particular audience. Another potential complication is the way the phrase Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) seems to have become interchangeable with the word sustainability, particularly in company literature and on websites. They are not, of course, the same thing and their apparent interchangeability adds further confusion to messages that should ideally be crisp and clear.
Selection of an Audience
Where Are You Now?
The starting point for all communications programmes should be the proper identification of the audience(s). This is particularly important when communicating messages about an organisation’s actions with regard to sustainability, because most organisations want to broadcast their actions and achievements to a wide range of stakeholders. This makes the planning phase of communications extremely important. Different stakeholder groups will have differing views of the originator of the messages, they will almost certainly have different levels of understanding and comprehension of sustainability and they will all want to take something different away from the communication. There are a couple of important things to remember about communicating with anyone in the 21st Century. Firstly, it is virtually
If an organisation is considering embarking upon a communications campaign, to educate and inform stakeholders about its sustainable credentials, policies and achievements, the likelihood is that it believes there is something worthwhile to say. Greenwash (putting an environmental spin on a statement or story to make it more appealing) is of course to be avoided at all costs. It’s disingenuous, dangerous and, given the earlier observation about news travelling fast, will be found out with undesirable consequences. However, not all companies are at the same point on the path to perfection. Similarly, they are not all equally positioned in terms of their understanding or practising of sustainability. This is best illustrated by what IMS Consulting calls the staircase of competence.
Company is fully engaged. Good evidence base, which is verified and audited. Sustainability is part of the company’s psyche
Company is fully engaged in sustainability. Levels of understanding are high and evidence is available
Staircase of Competence IMS CONSULTING 2010
Company is engaged in sustainability; at an early stage. Little evidence exists of activity Company is not engaged in sustainability and is unlikely to become so
Gathering Stakeholder Views and Feedback Communication with stakeholders should be a two-way street. All too often, campaigns are planned and implemented without paying
IMS Consulting People
With over 25 years’ experience in marketing communications consulting, Graham specializes in energy and environment-related business issues. He is author of over 500 articles on business, industry and environment and his work has appeared in a range of magazines, newspapers and online.
sufficient regard to the views of the audience. Not only can these help to shape the way in which communications programmes are rolled out, they can also provide valuable information on the market, competition and customer needs. Traditionally, stakeholder views have been gathered using round table discussions and face-to-face dialogue. In many instances this provides the best solution, particularly when stakeholder dialogue forms an important part of an engagement process; for example in conflict resolution or when reaching consensus on a complex environmental issue. However, communications campaigns often benefit more from flexible engagement with a broad range of participants. Online dialogue and exchange provides an excellent alternative to face-to-face discussions and focus groups. The dialogue can be more inclusive, engaging interest groups who would not normally be either willing or able to attend physical meetings. Of course, from a sustainability viewpoint, online dialogue is ideal because
Communication with stakeholders should be a two-way street.
of the significantly reduced carbon footprint. Until recently, the tools available for multi-stakeholder dialogue were usually complex and expensive. Working in partnership with The Environment Council (the UK’s longest established and most experienced stakeholder engagement organisation), a toolbox of online utilities has been developed by IMS Consulting to fill the void. StakeholderTALK™ provides organisations with a quick and easy means of requesting, gathering and interpreting stakeholder views. n
IMS Consulting works extensively in the built environment developing and delivering communications programmes targeted at a diverse range of stakeholders. These can include: employees, suppliers, regulators, investors, NGOs and the media. IMS CONSULTING 2010
Water, Water Everywhere? [ Elaine Coles ] change information in the world. Now the CDP has turned its attention to water and asked more than 300 of the world’s global companies to report for the first time on water use and other water-related issues. The companies have been invited to measure and disclose information on their water usage, the risks and opportunities in their own operations and supply chains, as well as water management and improvement plans. The results will be summarised in an annual report, the first of which will be produced in the last quarter of 2010.
Water scarcity may seem a distant problem to some; but to many it is already a reality.
Like climate change, water is set to be a key issue for the 21st century. Many people, whether professionally or privately, will experience the impacts of climate change most forcefully through either water excess or scarcity. Society is now faced with increasingly complex issues in how it manages its water resources and water use in a truly sustainable way. The UK already faces considerable challenges in how to tackle issues including flooding, water quality, scarcity, treatment and supply on its own shores. It is also now tasked with how to address its reliance on its ‘virtual water’ footprint in imported food and other supplies, which an alliance of some of the UK’s leading engineering experts has said is now exacerbating water shortages in other countries. The ‘Engineering the Future’ alliance, which includes the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), and the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), is warning that the UK’s future development could be threatened if it does not take steps to address the escalating global water crisis with urgency. In April the alliance warned that two thirds of the UK’s water footprint is now effectively imported in the form of food, energy and other goods that require water for production and transportation from countries that are themselves under water stress.
IMS and its work on water issues It is hard to underestimate the importance of water in the context of sustainability. Water is increasingly being talked about as the “next carbon” – exemplified by the launch in April of the CDP Water Disclosure project. This article outlines issues surrounding the UK’s ‘water footprint’ and the way towards a sustainable blue infrastructure.
Over the last two decades IMS has developed a significant level of specialist expertise through its work on water related-issues with a wide range of key stakeholders. These stakeholders range from government departments and regulators, leading providers of water and wastewater services, large corporates and SMEs and NGOs. The most visible manifestation of this expertise can be seen in WaterBriefing, IMS Business Information Services’ (IMS-BIS) flagship The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is an independent not-for-profit daily online news and intelligence service which is specifically focused organization holding the largest database of primary corporate climate on key issues in the UK water and wastewater sector. IMS BIS is also the publisher of the bestselling market research report “Selling into the UK Water and Wastewater Industry”. Published in January and now in its third IMS Consulting People edition, the wide-ranging 530 page report ELAINE COLES IMS has recently joined looks at the key drivers behind the UK water companies’ AMP5 five year capital British Water, the leading UK water industry investment programme which started in trade association. British Water plays a Elaine is head of market research April. vital role in bringing a coherent approach at IMS. She writes issue-driven Recent briefings organised by IMS BIS to delivering the best for the British water briefings and researches and include a WaterBriefing seminar held at industry in partnership with the water delivers bespoke research reports. IWEX which looked at some of the key companies. IMS will take an active part in Prior to joining IMS she worked in challenges the UK water companies now its membership, working with other member scientific, technology and business face in delivering their upcoming investment organisations to enhance the position of the publishing, and was previously a programmes. Sustainability is increasingly British Water industry, both in the UK and Director of European Technology at the forefront of how companies manage overseas, by meeting changing regulatory Publishing. their businesses, including their energy use, demands and promoting best practice within carbon emissions, flood resilience measures the industry. n
IMS joins British Water
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Water supply and treatment touches every aspect of sustainability. It is a political and economic issue, with far-reaching effect on the quality of our environment and prosperity of society.
IMS Business Information Services (BIS)
The UK’s future development could be threatened if it does not take steps to address the escalating global water crisis with urgency.
and protection of the water environment, to mention just a few. Speakers included Andrew Kluth, Group Sustainability Director at Halcrow, a leading multi-disciplinary consultancy, who spoke about water scarcity and sustainable water use. Speaking at the same seminar, Tim Door, UK Water Industry Manager at ABB Limited, a global leader in power and automation technologies for the utilities, talked about the key role innovation plays in the development of sustainable solutions by ABB for the water sector. Many of Tim’s views were supported by Paul Mullard, the UK Director at British Water, who spoke of the difficulties confronting technology, equipment and services providers alike in the transition period between one major capital investment programme to the next and the inevitable hiatus this currently creates.
A sister company of IMS Consulting, IMS Business Information Services (IMS BIS) provides market research and business intelligence services to the water, waste, energy and environment markets. As well as bespoke research undertaken on behalf of clients, IMS BIS publishes industry-specific market reports. These include: Selling into the UK Waste & Recycling Sector, Selling Into the UK Contaminated Land Market and the flagship report: Selling Into the UK Water & Wastewater Treatment Industry.
sector. It also provides detailed information on key issues like carbon management, energy use and climate change, upcoming projects, key contracts and named contacts on an individual basis for the 22 companies of England and Wales and for Northern Ireland Water and Scottish Water respectively. The Report is available in both hard-copy and electronic format. For more information visit
Now in its third edition, Selling into the UK Water and Wastewater Treatment Industry, the latest Report covers the 2010-2015 AMP5 investment cycle. At some 530 pages, the Report provides a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the UK water
– for sustainable construction,
Developing a sustainable blue infrastructure
Like climate change, water is set to be a key issue for the 21st century.
Looking ahead, water resources, their use and management are without question among the key sustainability drivers which will have to be addressed by society in the context of climate change at government, business and domestic level. Many of them
www.waterbriefing.org or call 0117 315 5239
IMS BIS also publishes daily news and information services, aimed at providing companies with market intelligence in an online format. These include:
– for the waste and recycling market and
– for water and waste, which has over 30,000 subscribers
are inevitably increasingly contentious – water surplus or over-use in one area will mean scarcity in another. Engaging with groups who often have conflicting interests, coupled with communicating clearly and effectively on the key issues, is the best way forward to developing a truly sustainable blue infrastructure, both at home and overseas. n IMS CONSULTING 2010
Engagement 2.0 – the need for innovation [ Mike King ] Mike King gives his personal view on the new direction of stakeholder engagement. At a recent meeting with a senior executive from a large multinational corporation their opening gambit was along the lines of ‘I hope that you are not going to tell us about stakeholder engagement because we have done that’. So is that it then? Engagement has been done, ticked off the list, let’s move on. This article explores the potential future for the process of stakeholder engagement that has been so much part of both the corporate and public landscape for the last ten years. While there may be a perception that engagement has stuck and is less of a priority than previously, the reality is that it has – quite naturally – become accepted and therefore seems less exciting. You just have to look at the number of stakeholder-based consultancies and the added ‘engagement’ offering to established processes to know that while it has been done, it also continues to be done. Stakeholder engagement, in the same way as corporate responsibility, has become a norm, an established part of business that is buttressed by acknowledged arguments about business benefits. But the question is whether either of them meet their purpose. It must be assumed that for companies they do, otherwise we would not be seeing their consistent growth. The same question addressed to stakeholders, however, is more complex – for some they might, while for others they definitely don’t. The clamour about engagement not being worthwhile and
having been consumed by the corporate beast is nothing new but the issue is that while the process might have been successfully integrated, could the promise of engagement have been just illusory? It’s sometimes hard to see what ten years of increased engagement has done to change corporate and stakeholder behaviour. Of course behaviour change, the ultimate objective, is always difficult to see and measure. But enough time spent with the corporate sector, or at least with the leading parts of it, will demonstrate that behaviours, attitudes and relationships have indeed changed. Some of this may be due to the greater role of stakeholder engagement, some due to factors such as globalisation, generational shifts and crisis issues such as climate change. The challenge for the stakeholder engagement field then becomes keeping up with the greater changes taking place and adjusting its role accordingly.
Upstream engagement ‘Responsible Innovation’ is emerging as a new challenge for corporate responsibility. It reflects the demand for ‘upstream engagement’ whereby stakeholders are engaged at the early stages of product development, especially around sciencebased products like nanotechnology. This raises substantive issues around competition and commercial confidentiality as well as the challenge of engaging on highly complex topics. However, the case of GM shows that businesses risk consumer rejection if they don’t engage with relevant stakeholders and the earlier that engagement takes place, the more likely they are to address stakeholder concerns into the final product. Engagement has traditionally been used to help provide answers but upstream engagement is perhaps at its most powerful when it enables a better understanding of the questions.
Building Trust IMS Consulting People
Mike is associate consultant at IMS with 25 years experience working in the area of CSR and sustainability, specialising in stakeholder communication and engagement. He was previously Chief Executive of The Environment Council.
IMS CONSULTING 2010
In the wake of the financial crisis, corporate governance is under fire in respect to how it approaches the management of risk in an increasingly complex world. Public perception has changed, confidence in the financial sector has fallen through the floor and this will have ramifications for other business sectors as well. One word seems to be cropping up time and time again in both the media and in public discourse and that word is ‘trust’. Stakeholder engagement should be a key process through which an organisation builds greater levels of trust, providing as it does the opportunity to see
’Responsible Innovation’ is emerging as a new challenge for corporate responsibility.
” its actions from a stakeholder’s perspective. However, if trust building is restricted to the stakeholder engagement programme then it is destined to fail. Trust, it would appear from all the literature, is built on relationships not with organisations but with people. So there must be a culture of engagement throughout the organisation. It is this culture that could mark out the successful 21st century organisation as one that is ‘engaging’, viewing trusting relationships with stakeholders as a key facet of good business.
Online Engagement A third ‘adjustment’ stakeholder engagement is making is its embrace of the web. Social networking has shown that it is possible to have a conversation online and to engage with a global network of stakeholders. It tends to favour, at this moment in time, ‘consultation’ (comments upon someone else’s idea) rather than dialogue where a degree of consensus is being sought. The pace of innovation suggests, however, that it is only a matter of time before online processes that truly mirror face-to-face dialogue are developed. In the meantime online platforms are very good ways of providing information, thereby increasing stakeholder literacy in a particular issue, gathering information to inform decision making and seeking peoples’ views on particular subjects. However, the big question is whether they help build relationships, the key component as already discussed in building trust. At the heart of good engagement is human interaction, and therefore the more innovative and potentially effective online platforms are those that integrate the online with face-toface engagement. So in the end that executive may well have been right, stakeholder engagement has been done, but then so has risk-management, accounts and marketing. The fact that it is not new does not diminish its importance, nor should it stop innovation, which will become increasingly crucial as the field becomes more competitive. n
Delivering proof of best practice [ Erika Roshdi ] Many organisations are overlooking the opportunities offered by online evidence databases to communicate progress in their sustainable business activities to stakeholders. Given the rapidly shifting nature of organisational communications and the flexibility and accessibility of online evidence engines, this article explores the effectiveness of the web as a platform for businesses to broadcast their progress towards corporate sustainability goals. Sustainability is at the forefront of many business strategies. Not only is the current political climate pushing businesses towards sustainable activity, the media and consumers are also putting pressure on organisations to go beyond greenwashing marketing communications to deliver results. Businesses are under governmental and supply chain pressure to cut emissions or face a penalty, part of which will include an unfavourable reputation with the introduction of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) peer performance league tables. Whilst “responsible” behaviour has for many become a case of compliance, there are competitive advantages to be gained from best practice. Many businesses, however, are yet to fully understand the competitive implications of communicating their sustainable activities to stakeholders, particularly in providing best practice evidence. This proof is vital in building stakeholder confidence in corporate commitments to sustainability and one key method of delivering this is the use of online case study databases.
Why provide evidence? For organisations that are striving for more than box-ticking in the redesigning of their operations, it is not the setting of environmentally innovative policies, the formulation of strategies or their implementations that are failing to deliver. Most commonly, it is the evidence phase of policy implementation that businesses overlook. Organisations are setting progressive objectives and weaving these into their projects and processes without communicating their activities to stakeholders. From a stakeholder’s point of view, it means that these innovative changes and improvements in operations simply did not happen. The stakeholder is offered no proof of the business’ commitment to its aims and objectives. Given the current and no doubt increasing supply chain pressure
on organisations, it is not enough to have good intentions. Suppliers, purchasers and end-consumers will want to know that they have made responsible decisions as part of their exchange with businesses; providing evidence of business activities to these stakeholders is the best way to ensure this. The construction industry has been particularly poor in offering proof of its commitments and achievements in sustainable business. Annual and CSR reports are, of course, useful tools and act as one kind of proof, but there is evidence to suggest that stakeholders need more than an annual evidence update. Research conducted as part of two major surveys for IMS Consulting clients in the past 6 months has verified that case studies of organisational activities are unquestionably important in creating a sense of confidence in the business. The construction industry will come under greater scrutiny from stakeholders as government carbon allowances become more restricted and one of the key tools to ensure continued business will be evidence of sustainability within all projects and activities. Case studies will feature more prominently in Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) criteria preceding Invitations to Tender (ITT), making evidence of environmental commitments hugely valuable in decision making and business opportunities. Providing continuous evidence is also a useful tool in assuring stakeholders that an organisation is doing more than paying lip service to sustainability goals. Many organisations have unjustifiably used sustainability as a differentiator from competitors, but it is vital that businesses give stakeholders a cause for confidence in corporate commitments to sustainability.
Why use case study engines? An increasingly popular way for businesses to offer this proof of best practice to stakeholders is using online case study engines. These consist of a searchable database of projects undertaken by an organisation that allow interested parties to develop an understanding of the business’ activities and progress on objectives. Online case study engines allow businesses to publicly broadcast their progress towards corporate sustainability goals. One example of such an engine is Skanska’s Sustainability Case Studies site, developed and hosted by IMS Consulting, which allows users to categorise case studies by location and aspects of sustainability. This case study search allows stakeholders to locate exactly
what is of interest to them, providing a more useful alterative to traditional online case studies that usually function as PDF files.
IMS Consulting People
Erika works in IMS Consulting’s media and stakeholder relations department. Prior to joining IMS she studied management at the University of Nottingham Business School, subsequently working in the voluntary and public sectors.
Why online? Construction companies have traditionally been criticised for making poor use of the opportunities offered by IT, including the web, in strategies and operations. The internet, however, is the ideal platform for the delivery of best practice evidence to stakeholders. One of the most important benefits of creating an online case study engine is the opportunity to update the case studies quickly and easily. Given the extensive accessibility of the web to individual users and businesses, there is no justification for out of date websites. Using the internet as a form of evidence delivery, businesses can update their case study engines regularly, ensuring that stakeholders are kept abreast of corporate activities and projects. This allows stakeholders a continuous glimpse into operations throughout the year. Online case study engines enable users to apply certain criteria to search through databases and mould the information they receive from the engine to their requirements, making the relevant material instantly attainable. This presents businesses with the opportunity to, as the Skanska example effectively demonstrates, inexpensively monitor which areas of activity are important to stakeholders. This information works as a form of indirect stakeholder dialogue, forming part of an essential two-way dialogue toolkit. The benefits of online evidence databases are clear, and given the increasing efforts of organisations towards sustainable business activities, providing stakeholders with proof of best practice is a crucial step in the right direction. n IMS CONSULTING 2010
The importance of online stakeholder engagement [ Roxanne Ratcliff ] It is now widely accepted that most organisations, regardless of sector or industry, must undertake stakeholder engagement (SE) if they are to thrive. Whether a formal conscious programme of engagement, or an ad hoc subconscious approach, the risks versus rewards of engaging with stakeholders have now been clearly identified. So, if engagement is key, the next logical question is ‘how do we engage’? There are many factors to consider but one of the most important is deciding upon the medium – face to face, telephone, written or online. This article considers the rising relevance of online dialogue, identifying the benefits that can be gained from adopting a web-based approach.
With over forty-eight million internet users in the UK, it is evident that the web needs to form a substantial part of stakeholder consultation programmes. both should depend on the target audience – however the benefits of well designed online tools are significant.
Benefits of online engagement IMS Consulting People
Roxanne coordinates and implements online marketing programmes for a range of IMS clients. Prior to joining IMS Roxanne worked at Intel Corporation where she specialised in public sector marketing and government liaison. The last fifteen years have seen a massive shift in the way people gather and distribute information. Personally and professionally, people now depend heavily on online channels to communicate with the world. Email has replaced the letter, up-to-minute news sites have replaced instantly dated newspapers and social networking sites have redefined the relationship. With the web now playing a crucial role in human interaction, an engagement programme that ignores online methods risks overlooking many stakeholder groups. Web-based tools can engage stakeholders on a variety of levels, from simple supporting engagement to a full stand-alone programme. At one end of the scale, a basic online survey can be used to support face-to-face meetings. At the other end, a multi-faceted stakeholder engagement hub can conduct comprehensive engagement using only online tools. Whether to choose offline, online or a combination of IMS CONSULTING 2010
Online engagement saves time and money. Many consultations conducted today have to deal with restraints relating to budget and the project timescale. Having online tools available that can be quickly deployed and can save money on physical resources such as travel, venue hire and paperwork can create real advantage. A recent SE project undertaken by IMS Consulting for the UK Green Building Council is a prime example of this. A full consultation was designed, deployed and analysed in just three weeks. Rather than a lack of response due to the tight timescale, the intuitive online survey allowed over 50% of the target audience to be successfully consulted – a much higher level of response than could be achieved through conventional engagement processes. See page 12 for more information about this project. Online engagement is also environmentally beneficial. A reduction in resource use and travel, by both facilitators and stakeholders, will automatically make a consultation more sustainable. Add to this the carbon neutral hosting packages offered by committed online specialists and the result is a dialogue that is environmentally sound. Another advantage of the online route is the ability to access stakeholders who wouldn’t normally participate in face-toface programmes. Non-participation can occur for a number of reasons: mobility, accessibility, sensitive topics, personality traits and time constraints to name but a few. The beauty of a web-based dialogue is that the engagement comes to the stakeholder, rather than the stakeholder having to approach the engagement. Individuals can
give their perspective when it suits them, in the comfort of their own surroundings, resulting in engagement that may otherwise not be. This may also mean a more truthful and accurate response. For projects held over a longer timescale, online engagement can provide not only an instantaneous but a continuous view of the stakeholder perspective. Utilising online tools such as forums, surveys and document sharing, the engager can quickly build an initial view of the stakeholder’s thinking and see how this thinking progresses during the course of the engagement. Stakeholder perspectives will naturally develop during a consultation as information is distributed, options are discussed and opinions shared. Having a timeline of perspective, rather than a one point snapshot, will arm the engager with much stronger information on which to base a final decision. With over forty-eight million internet users in the UK, it is evident that the web needs to form a substantial part of stakeholder consultation programmes. The tools now available allow engagers to quickly, effectively and intelligently consult key individuals on the issues that matter to them. As businesses and consumers depend more heavily on the web to inform and influence, organisations that choose to ignore online when conducting their activities run the risk of ignoring their influencers too. Recognising the increasing importance of online communication for organisations, IMS Consulting has developed a multi media toolkit to enable companies and organisations to engage online. Developed in conjunction with The Environment Council, the StakeholderTALK communication tools enable clients to exploit the benefits of online stakeholder engagement and communications. n
Online as the first option for reaching customers [ Clare Dixon ] The last decade has seen a seismic shift in business to business communications from hard copy to online, both at an organisational and individual level. This article explores the advantages to be gained by businesses using online communication to reach their target audience. Effective communication relies on three main things: accessibility, speed and clarity, features that make online communication using the web an important tool. Communication is a two-way process and with the right medium, the right target audience and the right information, businesses can ensure that corporate messages reach their target. Every well informed business or individual is now either wholly or partially represented online. This move to online communications is perfectly illustrated by the results of a survey IMS recently conducted for the UK Green Building Council which showed that over 70% of its members access their news online as a preferred option. Online news is fast, easily accessible, up to date, convenient and readily available from a wide range of sources. It is also largely free.
Online equals improved measurability The limitations of communicating via traditional print mediums compared with online delivery mechanisms are now widely acknowledged. The great advantage that online delivers over its hardcopy counterpart is measurability, which allows campaigns to be precisely tailored and adjustments quickly made to capitalise on successes and minimise negative impacts. It allows organisations to measure the number of people who have received the information and, most importantly, whether they engaged with it. Businesses are able to gather clear and accurate information on the volume of traffic generated by communications and when this took place. This ability to target, measure, adjust, react and respond quickly is vital to any communications campaign, including
The availability of niche offerings online is no longer determined by the mass market.
advertising and stakeholder engagement. For any business, measuring the target audience’s reaction to products, services and activities and responding appropriately is crucial to long term success. It is essential for businesses using online communication to remember that it is not only the message that is important, but also how, where and when it is communicated. This is another benefit of the web as a communication tool, allowing organisations to move away from mass-market broadcasts to targeting receivers as individuals. This concept of mass customisation was first identified by Chris Anderson in his article ‘The Long Tail’ (Wired Issue 12.10 Oct 2004). Anderson discusses the move away from the “physical world of scarcity”, limited by physical space and a dispersed audience, to the online “world of abundance”. The web combines unlimited availability with information about consumer trends, allowing audiences to deviate from mainstream ‘hits’ and explore niche markets. The ‘Long Tail’ principle argues that the demand curve does not reach zero, with the result that there is always an audience for the product or service, even if it is just a handful of customers. Understanding the potential offered by this ‘world of abundance’ can transform the way businesses approach their online communications. Users, dispersed by both location and interests, can be aggregated and media outside of the mainstream can find an audience by the effective targeting of messages. The availability of niche offerings online is no longer determined by the mass market. Even a few years ago, there was no platform from which to effectively target communications to a niche market. However, organisations with niche products or services are now able to exploit the customisation opportunities that the web provides.
Two-way dialogue The move from hardcopy to online has, for many organisations, not been flawless. Initially for instance, mass market newspapers created one publication, both printed and uploaded in the same format. Significant changes have taken place since those early communications as user comments have progressively become as vital as the message itself, with the response often determining its importance. The ease with which individuals can respond to what they have seen is one of the key differences between hardcopy and online, offering organisations considerable opportunities to react in an accurate and timely manner to the reader’s
IMS Consulting People
Clare is responsible for the advertising and business development of the online publications provided by IMS. She is experienced in the use of online media as a platform to provide targeted information to specific customer groups and prior to joining IMS Clare worked in property insurance and risk at RBS.
viewpoints or requirements. The potential for user feedback of online communication can be seen most aptly in the success of user ratings or recommendations offered by organisations such as Amazon. It seems that nothing ensures good sales as much as communicating what good sales there have been. An interesting example of the use of customer recommendations and comments is that of historian Orlando Figes, who in a rather botched self publicity boost left many crushing comments under the entries of his peers’ books on Amazon, while on the other hand left glowing ‘responses’ under his own entries, an act which resulted in a huge uproar. The web allows for organisations to engage with consumers and viewers in two-way dialogue, wherein the response of these individuals can often have a viral effect among the broader online community. Whilst the advantages and capabilities of the web in developing effective online communications are becoming increasingly clear, the challenge for organisations operating in niche business-to-business markets such as water, energy, construction and environment, is how to use online tools to reach target audiences. IMS Consulting has exploited the opportunities provided by the web to enable its clients within these niche markets to communicate effectively with their consumers. The work undertaken by IMS Consulting enables clients to build evidence databases to deliver proof of best practice, online resource hubs providing measurable information to clients, and news and information channels allowing clients to customise their communications to a targeted audience. The web is out there – but it requires careful management if organisations are to get the best from it. n IMS CONSULTING 2010
RECENT PROJECTS FOR IMS CONSULTING
UK Green Building Council
‘Getting the Numbers Right’ (GNR) is an independent database of CO2 and energy performance information on the global cement industry, which is helping the sector to understand its current performance and future potential. The purpose of the disk is to encourage companies in the cement industry to join the database and to provide support for participants in their communications with others in the industry. GNR is part of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI), providing accurate, verified data and web-based reports that are available to all participating companies and stakeholders. It allows participants to benchmark their performance, track their emissions inventories and respond to company and regional climate management issues, whilst being protected by contractual and data security measures. The database is also useful to policy makers for analysis and decision making purposes. The disk, designed and managed by IMS Consulting, functions in an offline web format, making it easily accessible across all platforms. It has been well received and all CSI members are committed to participating in GNR. n
UK Green Building Council
The UK-GBC used StakeholderTALK to undertake the first full survey of our membership. The consultation was live for two and a half weeks and during that short period of time we received responses from over 50% of member organisations. This is a very encouraging result, as the survey was comprehensive and some of the questions fairly detailed. The main benefit of the StakeholderTALK project is that the results were quantifiable and they have given us the opportunity to shape our future activities based upon solid feedback from our stakeholders. PAUL KING
Skanska Sustainability Review
Chief Executive UK-GBC
For more information about the communications and engagement services featured in this edition of Communicating Sustainability, contact: Communicating Sustainability is printed on 100% recycled, FSC accredited stock. © 2010 IMS Consulting IMS CONSULTING 2010
(UK-GBC) undertook its first member survey between February and March 2010 to develop a better understanding of what its stakeholders valued and what could be improved in order to map its future direction. The survey, undertaken using IMS Consulting’s StakeholderTALK Report! tool, resulted in an exceptional response level of 51% of UK-GBC’s membership. IMS Consulting, a member of the UKGBC, worked with the client to develop the questions, and then built and hosted a microsite for the survey that was designed to work alongside the UK-GBC’s own website, reflecting their brand and organisational values. n
The Skanska Sustainability Review 2009 is a forward looking document, not only summarising the company’s achievements in 2009, but also expanding on its aims and ambitions for sustainable development in the future. Producing a retrospective report is straightforward. The challenge undertaken by IMS Consulting required a deep understanding of Skanska’s objectives and aspirations, and expert knowledge of sustainability issues, making the information accessible to a wide range of stakeholders. The Sustainability Review 2009 is the fourth consecutive report IMS Consulting has researched, written and delivered for Skanska. n
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Designed to help organisations understand and implement communications more effectively, Communicating Sustainability is a collection of whi...