Sustainable Communications

Sustainability communications vs. sustainable communications

A distinction can be drawn between sustainability communications and sustainable communications.


It’s no surprise that sustainability isn’t only part of corporate strategies, but has been a popular topic for communication departments. Sustainability communications is an established practice in most corporations. It refers to sustainability as a core topic for communication campaigns, branding, stakeholder dialogues, and corporate reporting.

Sustainable communications refers to the sustainability of processes, platforms, media, and products of corporate communications. Companies measure and document their ecological impact in order to meet the stakeholder expectations and differentiate themselves from competitors. 


  • Request for metrics: Due to the universal trend for metrics, it can be assumed that communication departments will soon have to answer questions about their own sustainability.
  • Positive effects on sustainability communications: Firstly, the integration of sustainability into their own workflow allows communication departments to contribute to related corporate goals. Secondly, dealing with sustainability in their everyday work increases the awareness and expertise of communication practitioners.


» A standard clarifies the path to sustainability. It also allows a professional service firm to differentiate itself from competitors as one that is committed to social and environmental sustainability. «

John Edelman, Managing Director Global Engagement & Corporate Responsibility, Edelman


Reducing the communications footprint

Even if concepts for defining and measuring communication footprints have yet to be developed, there are already some steps that communication departments can take today. This helps to make their activities – from running websites, staging events, and producing publications to occupying office space and traveling – more sustainable:

  • Put your own sustainability to the test: Document all platforms, media and products, sort of events, reports and brochures, meetings, involved travel and include aspects of sustainability in future decisions and planning templates for projects
  • Develop argument: Prepare a line of arguments on the sustainability of corporate communications for stakeholders such as the management board or journalists
  • Reduce where possible: Identify processes and activities, that have the most negative impact on the climate, and which of them are most likely to become sustainable.


Sustainability as a key driver for business performance

Ecological sustainability – in the sense of the long-term, gentle use of natural resources – is expected to be an integral part of corporate strategies. Sustainability isn’t only an obligation to prevent risks such as loss of acceptance, but also actively offers opportunities such as building reputation or increasing brand value.
The growing relevance of sustainability is driven by various stakeholders simultaneously:

  • Investors
  • Customer and clients
  • Employees and applicants
  • NGOs and activists
  • Politics and governments


Key Facts about the 5 trends

  • Denialism: Denialism has become a central issue in out digitalized world. Rumors and false information can be spread much easier trough social media platforms than ever before and so have the potential to influence public opinions.Communicators have the task to identify denialism and find suitable strategies to obviate misinformation and protect the company.
  • Virtual Corporate Communications: Due to digitalization, new ways of communication, such as virtual formats, have become the new normal. This opens up several opportunities, but also challenges for communication departments. Topics such as remote leadership, digital collaboration and employee motivation show the importance of personal communication and thus the urgency of proper virtual formats.
  • Sustainble Communications: Environmental Sustainability has become an important issue in society, but also for corporations. Thus, this topic has raising relevance for communication departments and communicator, who have to integrate sustainability in their strategic communcation.
  • Digital Nudging: Digital nudging can support in leading the way towards effective virtual decision-making by employees throughout the organization. For communication leaders it is an opportunity to raise their profile within the company as experts on optimizing digital environments. 
  • Voice Interaction: The increase in voice-based searches might affect the visibility of any company’s public communication on search engines. In addition, Voice interactions allows corporate communications to reach out to stakeholders in a new way, and to position the company as an innovative brand. 



  1. Sources & screening: First, information sources which provide relevant insights into the professional discourse in the areas of management, technology, and society were monitored and screened. These sources primarily include recent publications from scientific journals and conferences in the respective domains, but also selected newspapers (e.g., Economist Science and Technology), magazines (e.g., Harvard Business Review, Wired), social news sites (e.g., Reddit Science), blogs and websites (e.g., ReadWrite, The Next Web), whitepapers, and corporate trend reports.
  2. Trend profiles: Each potential trend was systematically documented in a trend profile consisting of a brief description and several criteria estimating the trend’s relevance to corporate communications. Specifically, we assessed the impact of the trend on the corporate communications function, processes and management.
  3. Scoring: Based on the criteria detailed in the trend profiles, a scoring method was developed that was used to rate each of the trends.
  4. Selection: These trends were first discussed among the Communications Trend Radar team during a workshop. Each team member then voted individually for the top trends in the areas of management, technology, and society. We proposed five trends for 2021 (depicted below) based on the outcome of this process.
  5. Reflection: These trends were examined further and later discussed with approximately 20 communication leaders during an online workshop in November 2020.
  6. Report: All trends were analyzed and described in more detail in our publication - the Communications Trend Radar


Research team

The Communications Trend Radar 2021 project was conducted by a research team of the Leipzig and the University of Duisburg-Essen.

from left to right:  

  • Ansgar Zerfass is Professor and Chair of Strategic Communication at the Institute for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany. 
  • Daniel Ziegele, M.A. is a research associate at the Institute for Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University, Germany. 
  • Sünje Clausen, M.Sc. is a research associate at the chair of Professional Communication in Electronic Media/Social Media at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
  • Florian Brachten, M.Sc. is a research associate at the chair of Professional Communication in Electronic Media/Social Media at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. 
  • Stefan Stieglitz is Professor of Professional Communication in Electronic Media/Social Media at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.