Five “Keys” to Unlock a Successful Sustainability Program - Key 5: Maximize Stakeholder Engagement

Part 8 in the series "The New PR"
Aug 7, 2012 7:15 PM ET
Campaign: The New PR

Posted by John Friedman

Companies that have a genuine commitment to sustainability can implement their programs in ways that add value and clearly demonstrate their commitment.

Accurately Define and Identify Stakeholders

Many businesses take a marketing approach to customers – selecting to focus their efforts on the most profitable segments of their market. This is a sound business strategy that companies usually come to when they realize that customers are not all equivalent and that an unprofitable customer fleeing to a competitor is not only an acceptable risk, but a circumstance that may actually benefit the company.

Sustainability is a new strategy and, like market segmentation, what we may be seeing today are companies in a desperate rush to be seen as ‘socially responsible’ in fact trying to establish presence the same way some companies grab for market share without questioning the profitability. This is part of the natural learning curve for companies, particularly in the beginning of their life cycle where economic need may supplant the necessary confidence to take a longer-term view.

Just as companies eventually recognize that it may be better off ‘firing’ a customer that costs time and resources that would better be invested servicing more profitable and less demanding customers (or customer segments) so too companies must be careful when they select the issues and organizations with which to associate and partner.

Some attempt to determine the issues most of concern to their stakeholders, and this is on its face a good strategy, provided the definition of ‘stakeholder’ reflects true stakeholders in the company’s success – including customers, employers, communities, governments and suppliers who have a direct impact by the company’s success.

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John Friedman, an award-winning communications professional and recognized sustainability expert with more than 20 years of experience, is co-founder and vice chair of the board for the Sustainable Business Network of Washington (SBNOW). 

Friedman has served as both an external and internal sustainability leader, helping companies, ranging from small companies to leading global enterprises, turn their values into successful business models by integrating their environmental, social, and economic aspirations into their cultures and business practices. 

His insights on sustainability issues and strategy are a regular feature on Huffington Post.

Friedman authored the e-publication The New PR which outlines how companies must modify the way they communicate to meet stakeholders' changing expectations through five proven keys for developing programs that replace "spin" with transparency and unlock the full potential of a sustainability program to build reputational capital. Friedman is currently working on a new book Your Backyard Is My Front Yard.

He can be reached at, is @JohnFriedman on Twitter and can be connected on LinkedIn and Facebook