Last week I had the privilege of attending the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 4th annual Sustainability + Circular Economy Summit in Washington D.C. The 2-day affair gathered industry leaders at the US Chamber of Commerce’s historical art deco building to discuss the Circular Economy. Attendees heard from a diverse array of speakers on this year’s theme of how to ‘translate value to ignite action’. The theme focused on communicating the circular economy to all stakeholders, both internal and external – a very pertinent topic from a PR perspective.
As a PR firm Antenna mostly deals with external communications, so it was interesting to hear from company executives about the challenges they faced in communicating sustainability themes and values to their own employees to help make environmental initiatives successful. Speakers identified tying environmental performance to bonuses and setting internal environmental benchmarks as successful strategies for some companies. A representative from Disney explained how these kinds of strategies need to be complemented by “consistent, clear, and relevant” communications to employees that avoid jargon to gain their buy-in and participation in sustainability initiatives. Something as simple as saying “putting waste here” as opposed to using terms like “waste diversion” proved immensely successful in getting employees at their parks to increase recycling and composting. Naturally, many companies identified clear, relevant, and jargon-free communications as being equally important in communicating sustainability to external stakeholders also – something we at Antenna know very well!
While these discussions were very informative, the biggest lesson I took away from the summit was not about communications. Listening to industry leaders from such a wide range of markets – from Subaru to Coca Cola to Lockheed Martin to AT&T – it was clear that sustainability and the circular economy are no longer just concepts but a reality that industry is integrating into their business and management strategies. Companies identified how waste and energy reduction strategies had dramatically cut costs. Or how developing a more sustainable and resilient supply chain would help their industry survive in the long term as the price of raw materials increases and more frequent and severe weather events disrupt business. As Alan Barton, the CEO of Lehigh Technologies so succinctly put it during his talk on the Zero Waste to Landfill panel, sustainability is no longer just a philanthropic goal, it makes perfect business sense.