Authentically Engage with Communities
Environmental Defense Fund
Authentic community engagement is essential for sustainable business practices. Companies should consider the needs and priorities of the communities where they operate and involve communities in sustainability initiatives to facilitate inclusive and effective value creation. Engaging with communities builds trust and creates long-term relationships that benefit all stakeholders.
Engaging with the communities where a company operates is not only an ethical responsibility but also a good business practice as it strengthens the company’s social license to operate and fosters a culture of shared value creation. Companies must be aware that communities are not passive stakeholders but active participants in shaping their own future. Authentic community engagement empowers communities to contribute to sustainable solutions that meet their needs and priorities. By actively participating in genuine interactions with the communities, addressing their concerns, and collaborating to create value, companies cultivate resilient and sustainable systems that yield long-term benefits for all stakeholders involved.
Authentic community engagement enables companies to address complex challenges that affect the communities where they operate. By involving communities in the design and implementation of sustainability initiatives, companies can create value that is more inclusive, equitable, and effective. Building meaningful relationships with communities requires time, effort, and resources, but the benefits are significant, including improved brand reputation, reduced risks, and increased opportunities for innovation and growth.
Steps to Authentically Engage with Communities
- Conduct an equity assessment: Before engaging with a community, it is important to conduct an equity assessment. This assessment should identify the historical and systemic inequities that have impacted the community. It should also evaluate how the business may have contributed to those inequities and how it can avoid possibly creating new inequities in the future. This will help ensure that the engagement process is informed by an understanding of the community’s experiences and needs.
- Foster authentic relationships: Authentic relationships are essential to equity-centered community engagement. Your company should focus on building relationships with the community based on trust, respect, and transparency. This can include creating opportunities for dialogue and collaboration, listening to the community’s feedback, and involving them in decision-making processes related to your company’s climate commitments and overall business operations. Communities should be involved in the process from an early stage, not just in an approval-seeking capacity once a company has already come to a decision.
- Prioritize diverse perspectives: Prioritizing diverse perspectives means ensuring that community members who have been historically marginalized are included in decision-making processes. This can involve actively seeking out community members from different cultural, socioeconomic, and racial backgrounds, and may involve direct outreach to community-based organizations (CBOs), who are working on environmental and climate justice issues locally. Your company should also consider the perspectives of community members who may be directly or indirectly impacted by your business operations.
- Create accessible and inclusive engagement processes: Creating accessible and inclusive engagement processes means ensuring that community members have access to the information and resources they need in order to participate. To ensure that everyone is included and accommodated when planning an event or meeting, there are several key considerations that should be kept in mind. These include providing translations or interpretation services for individuals who do not speak the primary language, and accommodations for people with disabilities such as wheelchair access, sign language interpreters, or closed captioning. It’s also important to address the needs of those with family responsibilities by offering flexible meeting times or on-site childcare options. To address transportation barriers, travel vouchers, carpools, or public transportation information should also be provided. Although not comprehensive, these considerations can help create a more inclusive and accessible event or meeting. Your company should also be open to feedback and adjust the engagement process as needed to better meet the needs of the community.
- Evaluate impact and adjust as needed: Your company should continually evaluate the impact of their engagement efforts and adjust the engagement process as needed. This can involve assessing the effectiveness of community engagement strategies, measuring the outcomes of sustainability initiatives, and seeking feedback from the community through surveys or focus groups, in which community members should ideally be compensated for their participation. Based on the evaluation, adjustments can be made to improve the engagement process and ensure that the community’s needs are being met.