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Home / Resources / How to avoid ‘Corporate Cringe’ with your sustainability training programmes.

How to avoid ‘Corporate Cringe’ with your sustainability training programmes.

Author: Tom Griffiths Date:

Sustainability is a topic that everyone has a stake in, so why is getting your workforce engaged with it such a challenge? 

Audiences are increasingly aware of the challenges around sustainability, meaning the risk of appearing to greenwash with insincere or inauthentic messaging and half-baked training is higher than ever. Often working with small teams and meagre budgets, sustainability leaders can't afford to waste time putting initiatives together that fail due to lack of internal buy in. That's why we've prepared this guide to avoiding corporate cringe in your sustainability training programmes.

Moving beyond corporate cringe.

With sustainability learning communications, you’ve everything to win and plenty to lose. “Greenwashing” is everywhere, and there’s a lot of distrust of corporate sustainability comms. However, gain their trust and your engagement will go through the roof. Winning buy-in from your internal audiences is essential if your sustainability learning programmes are going to work. So how do you avoid ‘cringe’ messaging and disengaging training methods? We’ll explore how to bring together credible content, convincing comms, and worldclass, multi-touchpoint learning for a sustainability programme that delivers.

There's a disconnect with organisations encouraging employees to be sustainable in their day-to-day life while sharing information about how they could do the same in the workplace. Sustainability communications can come across ever increasingly insincere, contrived, or inauthentic. I'm not for a minute suggesting businesses don't have the right goals or ESG strategy, rather that many of the attempts to appeal to a particular audience or portray a specific image can end up creating a sense of embarrassment or discomfort among viewers. We can all think of a particular past email, campaign or piece of learning here, right?

It's easy to say what needs to be avoided in future, but it's more difficult to follow through with that commitment. Without taking the time to really understand the needs of the audience, or consider a new way of refreshing the approach to information delivery, it's often been a case of plastering over the cracks from last year's edition of sustainability training with exaggerated displays of enthusiasm, trendy language, and excessive use of buzzwords (shameless plug time, check out our recent webinar about buzz verses buzzwords in emerging L&D trends). With such a short-term view on sustainability communications and learning solutions, organisations attempt to align with social trends in a way that feels disconnected from their core values or mission. Content can feel overly polished, corporate-speak laden or overly scripted, resulting in a perception of insincerity or lack of authenticity.

This is where we arrive at a term which can boil all of that down into two words; 'Corporate Cringe'.

Want to dig deeper on how L&D can
up your sustainability enablement game?

Our Sustainability Enablement Trends in 2023 report explores the tactics large corporates are using to scale up sustainable workforce behaviours: a must-read for anyone responsible for sustainability commitments this year.

Why are we bringing this to your attention around sustainability?

Now we've addressed where things currently sit, we can look at how a new approach to how sustainability learning is informed and structured will help to turn over a new leaf for behavioural change. Taking a steer from what's not worked, we know that businesses need to strive for authenticity and transparency - and this includes admitting if certain strategies or commitments are still to be created. This will help to establish a genuine connection with your audience, drive engagement with the steps still to come, and put a focus on the meaningful actions which will back this up. Thus, your actions are aligned with the expectations and values of your audiences.

Now, to the key point: the challenges relating to poor training Net Promoter Scores (NPS) resulting from previous negative online learning experiences. Bringing our knowledge, experience, and expertise from the world of L&D, we can look at introducing an actional approach to drive toward a future solution.

Firstly, be open to recognising that you've not hit the mark. It's a difficult pill to swallow sometimes, especially if you've been close to previous campaigns and approaches, however it's often revolution, not evolution, which initiates engagement. Once you've recognised and accepted the need to pivot, you can start to explore if it was the quality of content, delivery, engagement, or the learning platform itself. Things have been evolving on this subject for the last 20 years with no sign of slowing down. Your support and partnership with L&D teams can no longer approach this as react, react, react, year on year on year - audiences expect the business to demonstrate commitment to the strategy with a long-term plan approach (continuous improvement with integrity at the core).

Our tried and tested approach to overcoming challenges such as this is rooted in collaboration. We're all experts at what we do, so being able to bring that together to work through complex challenges results in innovative solutions. For collaboration to work properly, it relies on the commitment of those involved to explore, explore, explore! Moving forward, what is it you can do to designing these multi-touchpoint, blended learning programs that feel "real," win buy-in, and motivate learners? It requires careful planning and consideration, but it's a recipe which can be learned, tweaked and mastered, to deliver the results you're looking for.

For a great example of sustainability training done right, check out Kraft Heinz's work on the Sustainable Masters programme. Watch the video below to see Brittany Sage Brown, Associate Director of Global Procurement Sustainability and Innovation at Kraft Heinz, discussing this at Learning Technologies 2023.

Leveraging training for sustainability enablement.

You'll be pleased to hear there's no secret sauce here - just diligence! It's not often that we find ourselves on such a two-way street, with a subject which spans work and personal lives, which in turn brings a wealth of personal beliefs and biases. The work which goes into creating a successful programme begins long before anything about solution design is mentioned. In this recipe, perfection comes from preparation. You will have a good idea of the message you would like to send, but the quality of how this is broken down, ordered, and presented comes from the time you take to understand the existing knowledge, skills, and behaviours of your audience.

This isn't something which needs to be approached alone - involving your audience up front then evolves into involving your stakeholders in the design process. Remembering you're the subject matter expert, seek out alternative inputs, perspectives and feedback as much as possible, mapping this back to the insight you've already gathered from your audience. Clearly articulate the vision and purpose of any initiative which is underway, articulating why this is important and how it aligns with your organisation's goals. When people understand the purpose and potential benefits, they are more likely to support and become ambassadors for change. Look for individuals who possess strong leadership qualities, have a positive influence on others, and are well-respected within the business. By continuing to encourage collaboration and teamwork among ambassadors and your other stakeholders, different platforms will enable them to share their experiences, challenges, and best practices. This collaborative environment helps to create a sense of ownership and buy-in, results in 'realness' through a blended approach, and continues to connect with real-world relevance.

Engaging a learning audience has some hard and fast rules which can really help to embed core messages, from well-established campaigns and ensure these are developed into market leading examples of learning interventions:

Audience engagement

Engaging a learning audience has some hard and fast rules which can really help to embed core messages, from well-established campaigns and ensure these are developed into market leading examples of learning interventions:

Connect the content to practical applications.

For a subject like sustainability, audiences are ready to connect with the content, the overall message, and the actions when they're delivered correctly. Offering practical applications gives an immediate route to measurable, meaningful change.

Foster a social learning culture.

In today's learning landscape, we're working to align with the idea that learning is not solely an individual endeavour but is enhanced through meaningful connections, sharing knowledge, and collective problem-solving. In a social learning culture, employees actively engage with others, both within and outside their immediate teams, to acquire knowledge, develop skills, and improve performance.

Offer continuous learning and resources.

Instead of creating a cringe culture, repeating messages, and risking unwanted perceptions of an otherwise important message, lean into learning partners to help create a joined-up solution which delivers a campaign of knowledge sharing, data capture and iterative approaches which are able to quickly adapt to changing requirements.

The final point touches on data capture, which is hugely important for enabling the opportunity to evaluate your effectiveness at a deeper level. Be real and be honest when it comes to this aspect. Your learners might be benefiting from the solution, but how can we prove that to the wider organisation?

Capturing the right data to build a story of sustainability training success for senior stakeholders.

Capturing the right data and building a compelling story of success around your learning program for senior stakeholders requires careful planning and a strategic approach. It's not a simple three-step process, but rather a holistic endeavor that should be incorporated from the program's inception. By integrating data capture from the beginning, you ensure that you have the necessary information to build a comprehensive story of success.

To begin, consider the narrative that has brought you to this point and compare it to the story you want to tell your senior stakeholders at the end. Reflect on the story that has led you to this point in your learning program. Then, envision the story you want to tell your senior stakeholders at the end. This exercise helps you identify the key milestones, achievements, and outcomes that will shape the narrative. Use this as a guide to inform your data collection efforts and measure progress along the way. Once a clear vision of the story you want to convey has been established, you can work backward to design your data collection strategy, baking in the essential data points to support your narrative.

It's important to understand that capturing lots of data doesn't necessarily equate to capturing the right data. Focus on connecting the data you collect to the broader organisational goals and initiatives as this alignment will help senior stakeholders see the value and impact of the learning program.

Developing a narrative that weaves together quantitative data, qualitative feedback, success stories, and alignment with organisational goals is key. Select Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that resonate with senior stakeholders and effectively demonstrate the program's effectiveness. In this way, we can move beyond measuring completion and knowledge acquisition, and delve into assessing behavior change and impact (which, ultimately, is the goal of any sustainability training!)

Finally, be prepared to iterate and refine your approach. Recognise that the initial iteration may not capture all the necessary data or tell the complete story. Continuously evaluate and enhance your data capture methods, feedback mechanisms, and storytelling techniques to ensure ongoing improvement in measuring and communicating the success of your learning program.

By implementing a thoughtful approach to data capture and storytelling, you can build a compelling narrative of success around your learning program for senior stakeholders.

Making sustainability training with impact.

In conclusion, addressing sustainability challenges in both personal and workplace contexts requires a shift away from insincere and inauthentic messaging. By focusing on authenticity, transparency, and long-term planning, organisations can win the trust of their internal audiences and drive meaningful behavioral change. Collaboration, involving the audience and stakeholders, is essential in developing innovative solutions. To engage the learning audience effectively, practical applications, a social learning culture, and continuous learning and resources are key. Capturing the right data and building a compelling story for senior stakeholders ensures the program's effectiveness is measured and communicated. By following these principles, we can create a sustainable future based on trust, engagement, and a genuine commitment to change.

Approach each challenge or scope each need like it's your last chance to succeed in order to lay a strong foundation. With the right groundwork in place, anything can be built, and plans can adapt as the programme progresses. We learn more, and can react to changing landscapes, ultimately creating a connection with audiences who will come on that journey with us. Forget what you've always done and think what you've always wanted to do, create a blue-sky thinking approach to involve your audience in the shape of the future. Stay close to your audience, stakeholders, and learning partners to demonstrate the value L&D can bring, going beyond tactical involvement and offering them a seat at the table to help you shape strategic, sustainability change.

About the author


Learning Experience Consultant at Sponge, Tom has almost a decade of experience in L&D and, prior to that, managed project implementation and customer relations at one of the largest banks in the world. Working with leading brands across the Tech and Retail sectors, he specialises in delivering human-centred learning, design thinking, and innovative solutions, creating long-lasting, meaningful value for our clients. Preferring to scrutinise systems, probe structures, experiment, and challenge convention, Tom excels in the grey areas others avoid.

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