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Give your firm an edge through environmental and social fluency

At first, it seemed to me almost like a death in the family: the editor of the London-based magazine “Mining, People & the Environment,” in which I’ve helped my clients get published many times, told me by e-mail it has ceased publication.

I’d long been encouraged by the very existence of a magazine that focused on helping mining companies be kinder and gentler. I’m sorry to see any publication fold, but this
one more than, say, Cosmo.

But the editor told me that my grief was misguided. The publisher had decided that environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues had become so central to mining companies’ operations today, that it was best to roll this publication’s content into the main flagship of the house, “Mining Journal.”

Yes, ESG issues are becoming central to the way organizations work today, and this has implications for the work of professional services marketing. Marketers can help their firms -- and their own careers -- by getting better at this emerging field of business competitiveness.

Educate yourself

One of the first and most important steps marketers should take, to stay current in this area of competitive advantage, is to educate themselves.

This should start with understanding the current thought in ESG areas -- through selecting the appropriate search terms in their newsfeeds, joining groups such as “Environmental Consulting Professionals” and “Sustainability Professionals” on LinkedIn (I’m a member of both) and watching documentaries on environmental issues on platforms such as Netflix.

This way, the come to understand how their firm’s services help to meet the current issues and concerns. For example, a big issue today is around water vulnerability.

Satellite images of the High Sierras in California with their reduced snowpack, plunging water tables in India due to over-use, and other scary stories indicate that water is going to become scarcer in the future. Marketers can learn about the issues, the better to be able to point out to prospects their firm’s understanding of rainwater harvesting and water re-use.

This education needs to go beyond environmental issues, to the growing issue of the local impacts of their projects. Mining companies, for example need to get good at building local economic involvement into their projects right from the start -- ranging from helping local construction companies bid on projects related to the mine, to growing the capacity of local farmers to produce food for the mine’s employees.

The picture at the top of this article shows a “chikudu,” a wooden freight bicycle common in the mineral-rich eastern Congo, which I visited on a consulting gig recently. This region has vast mineral wealth, but this has not translated into much local economic growth. The area is so lacking in opportunity that the best these young men could do for work is transport goods around in this primitive way.

Mining companies are increasingly being required to create educational and economic opportunities for people affected by their projects. Marketing staff can educate themselves about this issue and others that their firm helps with.

Learn to express ESG issues in financial terms

Conversations with clients about “green” things used to go like this:

Architect: “We could design this building so it’s likely to meet LEED standards.”

Client: “Will it cost more?”

Architect: “Yes, but...”

Client: “Then that’s a ‘no’ ’’.

These days, it might be more like:

Architect: “We can help you get a building permit and regulatory approval faster, improve your vacancy rates, reduce operating costs and risks, and improve the building’s long-term value.”

Client: “Tell me more.”

Money makes the world go ‘round. While some clients will want to “do the right thing” even if it costs more, most won’t. So, marketers need to learn to express their firm’s value proposition not so much in good deeds, but in financial terms. Clients understand things like risk management, operating costs, and return on investment.

Using the mining company example, if the mine has not invested in local capacity building and relationship development, there is a risk of social unrest if local people feel bullied by the mining operation. If pushed too hard, they may well mount protests, blockade roads and vandalize equipment, causing the company to be associated worldwide with negative headlines and hashtags.

Marketers can give their firm a huge benefit by expressing its ESG solutions in terms that potential clients will value -- which generally means finance.

Educate the firm’s professionals on communicating benefits

Many technical professionals focus on the details of their work. And I’m glad they do -- good calculations are needed if a bridge, for example, is to stand up to the expected load, wind shear, seismic events and other hazards.

But I find that many technical professionals struggle to convey the benefits that they offer of an ESG nature. They may know how to reduce energy cost, but don’t know how to convey those terms in the form of a positive public image for the client. Marketers who have educated themselves on the issues, and learned to convey them in financial terms, can help their client-service professionals in this area.

The result is an improved order-book for the firm, and a stronger performance for the marketing team.

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