Last month, 45 participants from 31 companies met in London for an intensive week of intellectual stimulus and engaging discussion through the WBCSD Leadership Program. In five days, we learned critical lessons designed to help us navigate the complex world of sustainability communication.

The week started with presentations of individual projects on sustainability communication. Throughout, we had to analyze and critically review each participating company’s current practices.

Interestingly, even though each company is so different, common themes emerged. Essentially, communication should be authentic and targeted, with the needs of the audience needs in mind.

This set a solid foundation for Module 2 of the Program, in which participants explored how sustainable development in action can look and what it takes to lead the change.

We learned from in-house practitioners at Diageo, BT and Unilever on how they tailored sustainability messages to different audiences, and how that helped build brand and business cases.

Communication is an important element of this because advances in technologies enable news – both good and bad – to travel further and faster than ever. This provides opportunities but also creates risks that never existed before.

Additional panels throughout the week illustrated that corporates need to walk the talk to avoid the pitfall of greenwashing.

As businesses have impact beyond financial success, we also debated how sustainability success should be measured. We learned that some companies see financial success as fundamental – and that managing social and environmental impact helps companies manage risks in a complex operating environment. Others see the need for a holistic measurement of business success to take into account non-financial impact.

Building lessons throughout the week in London – including a trip to the London Stock Exchange, walking tours around London, as well as site visits to EY and Radley Yeldar – we learned practical advice to apply in our own circumstances and across our companies.

Throughout the week, self-reflection and strong bonds between participants taught us that to lead sustainability takes courage which can be learned – but needs constant practice. As Lord Michael Hastings said in his leadership presentation to the group – “It is the conviction that you are the one to make the changes you want.”

Kit Fong Law
Manager, Group Sustainability
CLP