Developing and articulating a clear green narrative for your business

December 01, 2021

The Cop 26 event has given the world an even greater focus on the environment.  But any green business response to the commitments and statements made there needs to be carefully considered, especially taking into account growing public demand and scrutiny on how businesses react.    

That was the overarching view of a panel of experts at a November webinar given by Verity London, the Strategy and Communications agency for Responsible Business. The discussion covered how this environmental focus offers both challenges and opportunities for brands, specifically, how to develop and articulate clear green narratives, backed by action.   

The panel featured Fermín Martínez de Hurtado Yela, Sustainability Strategy Manager at Santander UK, Jessica Cross Brown, Sustainability Communications Senior Manager at OVO, and Rachel Gatley, Communications Strategist at Verity London.  Together, they explored how businesses can use communications to not only share their own commitments, but to also to bring employees, clients and customers along with them.   

If you missed the webinar, or were there and want to catch up on the highlights, we’re now sharing them below. To watch the webinar back in full, click through to the recording here.   

Embedding sustainability and related communications within  your company’s core business strategy   

Sustainability and climate no longer stand apart from broader corporate commitments. Just as climate change has an impact on society and humanity, so too will the work on climate link to your wider operations and impact. In this sense, as well as being the basis of PR friendly initiatives such as recycling and sponsorships, your climate commitments should be considered in the greater context of your ‘business as usual’ activity.   

 As Jessica Cross Brown explained, since launching its plan for NetZero in 2019, OVO has been working hard to ensure it’s an organisation-wide commitment. Not only because most of OVO’s related emissions are largely the result of customer use of gas boilers, but also because its future business model will likely focus on alternative sources of energy and decarbonising the home. This has meant that environmental messages for OVO go far beyond one off ‘green initiatives’.  They go into the heart of its business.   

 At Santander, Responsible Banking has been a focus since 2018, but last year the bank created a new pillar specifically in response to climate. This was viewed as a critical element of how Santander becomes  a truly responsible company, and is a direct response to listening to what stakeholders and customers expect of the business. The recently adopted climate change pillar saw the organisation seeking to:   

  1. Address and better understand climate risk to the bank  
  2. Consider how to best support customers, providing finance to the economy to help customers make the transitions required for environmental improvements.   
  3. Ensure Santander’s house was in order, by keeping the bank’s operations as green as possible  

What was clear from this section of the discussion was that the environment now has a very definite seat at the board room table in many organisations, and that by ensuring a company-wide approach to sustainability communications, a business can ensure the green agenda is not just considered a ‘project’ for a few specific individuals, but instead is part of a company’s DNA.   

Developing and articulating a clear green narrative that is backed by action  

At Verity London we recommend developing a narrative that celebrates all activity and stakeholders under themes that work towards one single goal.  We help clients develop this kind of structure, first by delving into the origins of their business objectives, operations & stakeholder expectations, and then by reviewing the existing range of responsible business activities in place.  

Once we understand the full, current picture of an organisation’s operations, we start to craft a narrative that helps to explain how the constituent responsible business activities play together, can evolve further and how this will help fulfil the wider organisational purpose. In this sense the lines between the dots help to make what may feel like disparate activities become part of a bigger picture. 

 This narrative can then be used in multiple settings to help motivate and inspire a wide range of stakeholders, both internal and external, to achieve your objectives, with authentic and creative content to communicate it powerfully. Importantly, a green narrative does not need to only reflect the job already done, but can also include the journey an organisation is taking.   


  • Understand your environment initiative / agenda fully. Explore it from every angle. Critique it, improve it, be realistic about what you are doing and how it plays against others. By being critical internally you will better craft a narrative that communicates your work in a genuine and honest way.  And if this reveals some areas for development, consider how this might also be possible now, in the future, or alternatively not at all. Your communications should reflect this, not gloss over it.   
  • Understand what your key audiences care about. How do your environmental commitments connect with their world? And what else do your audiences care about? Make sure your activity addresses what they are seeking from you, what they expect as a customer, client, legislator, business partner or employee.  
  • Understand competitors / sector peer initiatives. Environmental commitments are not a competition, but to understand what good looks like for your organisation you need to be able to see what good looks like for others. And through this, what the market has come to expect.   
  • Understand your organisation’s holistic approach to the environment. A ‘green’ initiative cannot undo or offset a wider negative impact. For example, a cup recycling scheme in a factory would not offset the release of pollutants into a local river from the same business, just as the focus on renewables at an oil and gas company cannot completely offset a continued focus on fossil fuels. Be honest and realistic about how your actions sit within the context of your business as usual, and consider how your initiatives fit into the wider scheme of things.   
  • Put your money (or action) where you mouth is – an authentic narrative must be based on reality. That’s it. Not fiction. Not hopes. But hard, cold reality. And if the reality of your delivery isn’t where you want it to be yet, then that is perfectly fine. Just make sure you explain where are you on the journey, where you want to be and when you plan on getting there. As the old adage goes ‘tell them what you are going to do, tell them when you are doing it and tell them when it’s done’.    

For Santander, there was a recognition of how technical the climate agenda could be. And that, as an organisation, there was a need to be humble but genuine in its response.

Santander felt it needed  a simple illustration of its commitment, as well as clarity of how this was really just a start. In short, it needed to provide evidence.   Ultimately this came in the form of €120bn going into green finance between 2019 and 2025, growing to €220bn by 2030, providing a very real and sizable representation of Santander’s commitment. A fact that, as Fermín explained on the webinar, helps ensure Santander’s environmental comms now have very real credibility.  

But as the panel discussed, evidence doesn’t have to take the form of €bn investments. It can also mean data collection from proactive ‘green’ programmes, external independent measures such as SBTi, or third-party endorsements from partner organisations. The main thing here is to ensure a focus on hard facts, not fiction or creative writing.   

Tailoring your communications   

Next, we discussed the importance of understanding what climate change means to different stakeholders and tailoring communications accordingly. At OVO the focus on internal audiences was key, with Jessica making the point that OVO’s Plan Zero initiative was a great tool for engaging internal stakeholders, as well as communicating with customers. She explained that as for lots of industries, the last year had been quite a volatile period for OVO, so having a common goal to rally around really helped motivate team, providing a clear driving force. 

One of the activities OVO delivered in line with this were three e-learning modules on the climate crisis; one providing carbon literacy and helping to upskill others, another focusing on energy transition and a third on the carbon footprint. Each module translated complex information into more easily understood language, helping 7000 employees learn about climate so they could have more informed conversations with customers. These examples illustrate that good, climate based internal comms don’t have to represent a ‘big bang’. Sometimes they are simply better when conducted as part of BAU.   

Conversely, OVO also needs to communicate with investors and corporate channels who require a more complex form of language, for example when discussing work to decarbonise the grid. Tailoring messages for different audiences is critically important. This was something the energy provider addressed with the creation of an internal ‘tone of voice’ guide for use by all staff when preparing content or written materials. The guide was designed to prevent the use of inappropriate turns of phrase. Think ‘environmental commitment’ not ‘planet saving’, for example.   

At Verity London we recommend anything that helps empower and guide an organisation’s comms to be more consistent and on brand. Because this, together with a well-crafted environmental narrative, can genuinely facilitate real progress. Not just by communicating a company’s activity better but also by nudging customers, clients and other stakeholders into behavioural changes that can help achieve organisation-wide environmental goals and beyond.   


A final point made throughout the session was that the most important aspect of environmental comms to avoid greenwashing is honesty.

As Jessica explained, being open and transparent is critically important and actually quite empowering – it doesn’t have to mean everything is in place and perfect. She went on to explain that in the wider responsible business space, no company ever truly expects to be 100% certain of their modern slavery compliance. It’s just not possible. But that as long as businesses are clear on what they need to do to keep working towards it, then all is good. Her advice was for organisations not to feel paralysed by fear when faced with ambitious targets but to make a start, and communicate progress as you go.   

At Santander, Fermín highlighted that when working in a global business it was also important to note that - although some societies and cultures value transparency as a good thing – this is not universal. In the UK, it’s seen as a positive. In others, it might be viewed differently. 

And while investors may also relish transparency, wider civil society might use it as an opportunity to blame an organisation for what it reveals it has not yet achieved. In this situation the need for transparency remains high.  But companies need to make sure they can back up their approach with evidence and a solid narrative that that illustrates their longer-term plans, while constantly measuring and considering the responses received to their comms. 


As these discussions make clear, effective environmental communications are now more important, and in some ways more complex, than ever before. But by ensuring that any green initiatives are placed in the context of wider organisational commitments, by backing up claims of green credentials with strong evidence, by tailoring communications to different stakeholders, delivering them with strong messaging and creativity, and by remaining honest and transparent, all businesses can develop and articulate a green narrative that will serve them well for today and tomorrow.   

If anything in this article resonates with you and you’d like to discuss your own Sustainability agenda and communications, please feel free to get in touch with the team  – We’d be happy to set up a chat and explore how we can support you. 

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