How are you handling the sustainability dilemma? Your clients and employees want to know more about your company’s sustainability initiatives. But how does one establish a strong narrative when the company can’t become completely sustainable from one day to the next? Many companies face a difficult dilemma. A sustainability dilemma. On one hand they are aware of the importance of a strong sustainable message but on the other hand they must be careful not to say too much. Or as a well-known business leader recently said: ‘When I do something, it is wrong, and when I don’t do anything that is also wrong’ . This situation is not by any means new. At Kunde & Co, we were faced with this dilemma some years ago when working with Arla Foods, the largest dairy company in Scandinavia and DONG Energy (now Ørsted), Denmark’s largest energy company. DONG Energy found themselves in a PR-pickle when they were criticised for being a black energy company. The company could not transform into a green energy company overnight, and it was therefore impossible for them to communicate green initiatives to the extent that was expected from the outside world. Nonetheless, they had to communicate something. And to do that it was, first and foremost, crucial to understand the magnitude of DONG Energy’s dilemma. Internal and external tests In order to get an in-depth understanding, we tested and developed different hypotheses and concept directions in collaboration with DONG Energy. These spanned from the safe to the real, where we highlighted the smaller green initiatives that DONG Energy had already launched. The test material also included a concept built around the company’s green ambitions and another concept embracing the company’s ultimate green dream. These different concept directions were tested both internally and externally where respondents were asked about their perception about DONG Energy’s sustainability credentials in the present and its expected green development in the future. The result was clear: There was a big dilemma The internal responses made it clear that the management of DONG Energy favoured the safe path. Previously when attempting to move slightly forward, they had faced back- lash for trying to be something they were not. Therefore, they wanted to be cautious and only communicate what they could vouch for. Meanwhile, employees, clients and other external stakeholders believed that DONG Energy should have a sustainability ambition for the long term. And it was okay if they did not live up to it at the present as long as they had an action-orientated approach and a clear objective to get there. Interestingly, they did not choose the green dream. This was probably due to the fact that at that point in time – 2008 – the direction was simply too futuristic and people had a hard time imagining it. Hereafter, Kunde & Co began developing what we then referred to as a ‘Business intent’, but what we today probably would have called ‘Sustainability intent’. Read more about this later in the report.
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