Inside Waste Magazine

Aug, 12 – One of our OgilvyEarth colleagues, Josh Levin, has had a byline published in the latest issue of Inside Waste magazine. Check out his article below!

Published in Inside Waste – Issue 37 July/August 2010

I have had the pleasure of working intimately with Australia’s waste management industry over the last two years as a public affairs adviser to some of Australia’s leading environmental management corporations, industry roof bodies, property developers and advocacy organisations.
These experiences have led me to appreciate that for the most part the waste management industry has a profoundly positive sustainability story to tell but it generally approaches the telling of these stories in a reactive manner.

I, though, am a firm believer the positive narrative ought to be told proactively and by operating in this manner your business will thrive commercially.
Now, I’m not going to use this space to tell you about  the intricacies of your own businesses , but rather to talk about what I know best: communications and public affairs.
One way to quantify the value of communicating sustainability is to ask: is it worth doing for broader reputational reasons – in other words – is it important to your stakeholders? Or, is there a risk to my organisation if we don’t communicate what we are doing in sustainability sense to our stakeholders?
A national poll recently commissioned by Parker & Partners found that 82 per cent of Australians want action on climate change now, with the majority of them wanting strong action.
It may not be the # 1, or even # 2 issue for the bulk of Australia’s suffrage in this election, but there is no doubt that whichever party can best demonstrate its commitment to taking action now on climate change will benefit from a real boost in electoral support.
This is particularly relevant for organisations whose operations have a clear physical impact upon their communities a la the waste sector.
As most readers would be aware, the visibility of an organisation’s activities is usually what drives community concern and/or media interest – with each stakeholder group utilising the other to apply pressure.
The very nature of government for example, is that it watches these groups particularly closely. Media and community pressure are important drivers of political influence. And in an industry as regulated as the waste sector, government perception is critical.
Government also has a more elevated role in ensuring the best possible legislative and regulatory frameworks are in place to deliver good public policy outcomes.  
The reality is that in pursuing sound public policy in the sustainability space, there is always a stronger likelihood of government focusing on those organisations which have the largest impacts on the community – in doing so it allows them to make the most amount of difference whilst applying the least amount of burden on the community.
There are of course other stakeholder groups in addition to the aforementioned, however we’ve found that these are the core set of protagonists which organisations grapple with when identifying the opportunities and risks for communicating their sustainability track record.
Which brings us to the issue of how organisations should approach the way they communicate their sustainability activities.
There are three broad principles which I believe are vital in telling your sustainability story: :
·        It must be real, meaningful and authentic
·        It must be demonstrable – and be able to be measured and evaluated
·        It must be positioned in the context of a commitment to ongoing improvements

Obviously, organisations which don’t take their sustainability credentials seriously enough – or worse, try to pretend they are more sustainable than they actually are (the dreaded ‘greenwash’) – run the risk of attracting high levels of scrutiny from government and media, and thus damaging their brand in the eyes of their customers and the broader community.
One play for the sector would be to communicate the renewable energy potential of landfill, or the decline of greenhouse emissions from the waste sector as a whole, to stakeholders and the community at large. I’ll leave the nuances to you.