Communicating sustainability dilemmas: Lessons from Nestlé

2021 / 12 / 6 | Author: enw_editor

Dilemmas go hand-in-hand with corporate sustainability efforts. Whether the goal is to decarbonize, eliminate plastic, protect biodiversity, or respect human rights, businesses inevitably run into some form of tradeoff between the effective solution and some other goal. That could mean not securing the right quality or quantity of materials, having to deprioritize other solutions, creating secondary impacts, or taking on financial risk.

Nestlé has offered some clues on how to approach such dilemmas. It’s website Beneath the Surface, shows how, rather than withholding information on the dilemmas they face, companies can actively communicate them to generate empathy and shared purpose with stakeholders.

Dilemmas of sustainable palm oil

In 2010, Nestlé set out to realize a deforestation-free supply chain by 2020. It did not reach that goal, achieving only 70% progress in its final year. Its new target, announced last April, is to strengthen engagement with small-scale farmers and achieve a deforestation-free supply chain, plus end human rights violations at suppliers, by 2022. Nestlé launched Beneath the Surface on the heels of that announcement. As the name suggests, the company aims to foster an understanding of the complexity of the problems surrounding palm oil and a deeper view into Nestlé’s sustainability efforts.

Visitors to the site are met by a series of videos on three themes: deforestation, forced labor, and the choice of using palm oil as an ingredient. You are now in the driver’s seat, with the chance to experience Nestlé’s daily dilemmas by choosing yes or no on each issue.

Let’s take deforestation as an example. The first video explains how modern lifestyles rely heavily on palm oil, how Nestlé failed to achieve its zero-deforestation target, and how the challenges of reaching small-scale farmers have posed the biggest obstacle. The video then asks the question, Should we stop buying palm oil from small-scale farmers who contribute to deforestation? You have a choice to make: yes (exclude them) or no (make an exception).

Regardless of which answer you choose, the video goes on to explain that excluding suppliers does not ultimately solve the problem. The education and capacity development of small-scale farmers is essential, and this is where Nestlé is focusing its work.

The other two videos use a similar structure to reveal the challenges of ending forced labor (specifically with regard to migrant workers) and of replacing palm oil with alternative ingredients.

Engagement and transparency are key

A core theme running through all three videos is the importance of engaging and being transparent with stakeholders.

There are no simple solutions to sustainability. That’s why businesses need to practice an iterative management process that includes productive dialogue with stakeholders when taking on issues to solve.

When communicating your initiative, it’s important to convey what you have achieved as well as what you haven’t and the reasons why. And for the stakeholders receiving that information, judging companies not simply on their yes-or-no decisions but on their values and process should yield solutions sooner in the end.

Takeshi Nozawa (Author), Translation by Stephen Jensen

Photo by Pixabay