Sustainability communications: 2023 trend watching

In this new blog series, Sefiani explores the key communications trends you need to be across for the coming year. Use these insights to inform and shape your communications strategy and create impact and influence with your audiences in 2023. 

Julia Hoy, Head of Sustainability Communications at Sefiani, examines what we can expect from brands communicating their sustainability efforts this year.  

Sustainability communications

By Julia Hoy

Consumers made it clear in 2022 that they want to see brands continue to actively support a more sustainable future. Last year, we saw increased loyalty to brands that are tangibly acting to make a difference and who are also empowering and enabling their consumers to join them in taking responsibility. 

Much work still needs to be done if we are to achieve the goal set by the Australian Government to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030, but it starts with making changes now to how we operate our businesses and live as consumers. There are no shortcuts, so we need to ensure we’re all moving in the same direction. 

Here’s what we should expect from brands in 2023. 

Brand vulnerability

Last year, brands communicating without evidence or action about their sustainability initiatives triggered a society-wide understanding and criticism of ‘greenwashing’. 

Last year, brands communicating without evidence or action about their sustainability initiatives triggered a society-wide understanding and criticism of ‘greenwashing’. H&M, Adidas and HSBC among many others were all called out for misleading environmental claims which undermined these companies environmental promises and eroded brand trust.

However, this criticism has unfortunately triggered many brands to move in the opposite direction, seeking to avoid discussions of sustainability because they fear how their stakeholders will perceive their progress, also known as ‘green hushing’. 

Communicating openly and honestly about sustainability is critical for us to achieve our sustainability goals. We also know that consumers appreciate brands that are human and vulnerable, but are still making active progress toward social and environmental change.     

What does this mean for brands? Those willing to be open and authentic about their progress and failures will continue to build and increase consumer trust. 

A greater focus on social sustainability and inclusion

Increasingly, individuals and employees are asking for greater organisational transparency  on social sustainability progress – from human rights to diversity and inclusion, labour practices, and community engagement. 

Australia will seek to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the Constitution in 2023, and from here, we can expect the momentum to continue. Stakeholders will ask more questions of our companies and their leaders, seeking clarity on their strategies to create more inclusive cultures and remove inequalities from their organisations, senior leadership teams, supply chains, and within the communities in which they operate. 

 What does this mean for brands? A lack of tangible and aligned metrics might have substantially halted progress towards greater social sustainability, but despite this, brands will still be expected by their stakeholders to take the big steps forward needed to make positive and sustained generational change. Real and long-lasting action in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) starts with understanding the unconscious bias within every organisation, listening rather than talking, and raising the voices of those often underrepresented and unheard before speaking on their behalf.

Empowering consumers to play a role in creating change

The steps required for positive change often fall at the feet of brands and our governments, but this year we will see more brands begin to empower individuals to join them on the journey. 

The role of the consumer – consumption habits, preferences, and behaviour – is one of the most critical parts of the sustainability puzzle. Consumers have the power to make choices or purchase products with a lower environmental impact every day. These choices also incentivise companies as the water, waste, and emissions generated from their products’ use by their consumers also have a direct impact on their organisational footprint. 

The circular economy and closing the loop on waste is one area where brands will step up their communications this year. Brands need to tap into behaviour change theory to help encourage their consumers to adopt more sustainable behaviours to reduce their overall footprint and help move people to more sustainable lifestyles. 

 What does this mean? Brands that get the communications balance right between what they are doing and what they’re asking consumers to do (while enabling consumers to actually do it), will go a long way to building stronger brand connections and demonstrating their commitment to creating a more sustainable future.

Education – we all need to be experts

Consumers, businesses, executives, and boards must become sustainability experts. For a company to do sustainability ‘well’, it cannot just rely on the expertise of its sustainability team. For words to align with actions, we need to see businesses step up and build their understanding of sustainability at every level to help everyone actively play a role within the organisation.

What does this mean? Brands that want to have an authentic conversation about sustainability need to ensure they’re walking the talk, which means building a workforce that deeply understands, is aligned with and works with the company’s sustainability strategy. 

We have entered a new era of transparency, where consumers want brands to be human, open, and authentic in their communications. 2023 will belong to the brands that are genuinely making an impact with an informed, connected, and aligned workforce, ready to be human about what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and the challenges they face.

At Sefiani, our experts can help you navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with communicating your sustainability narrative – authentically and transparently. 

fruit in bag