Start by evaluating the source of the request to determine engagement strategy.
Research the group making the request, evaluating:
Who is asking? Do they have a track record of constructive collaboration?
If you determine the group is credible it is important to acknowledge the contact with an initial response while you work through your internal process. Waiting until you have a definitive response or plan of action could be interpreted as a refusal to engage and inadvertently trigger additional action to gain your attention. If you determine the group is more interested in agitating than finding a solution, you may decide not to respond. Be prepared for a negative reaction if you choose not to respond to the request. Prepare to activate your response plan if needed to again communicate your commitment to sustainability and willingness to engage reasonable stakeholders.
In your response:
Also prepare a holding statement reflecting your willingness to meet and consider the issue in the context of your current sustainability priorities. Hold statement until needed for media or customer/consumer response.
Evaluate the nature of the request – does it appear to be part of a mass communication (letter or email) to multiple companies or targeted to your specific company or brand? Contact your trade association to see if others have received a similar request. Research the requesting group’s website and social media properties to see if this is part of a new campaign. If it is part of a mass outreach, it may be possible to refer it to an industry group or coordinate a response strategy with others who were also contacted.
It will be more productive to work with groups that offer a solution or are genuinely interested in collaboration vs. just raising an issue to promote their agenda. For those not genuinely interested in constructive engagement, you may have to take a principled stand that is in opposition to their position. In this situation, having a transparent and inclusive process that supports your position is essential. Research from CFI shows that if you share how and why you make policy decisions, you are much more likely to minimize outrage and opposition to the decision, even if stakeholders don’t ultimately agree with the decision made. Demonstrating your willingness to engage, listen and evaluate, will make your final decision more acceptable for many and tolerable for others.
Even if it appears to be a mass outreach or fishing expedition or is being made by an extreme group, completely ignoring or dismissing the contact carries risk. No response may be construed as a refusal to consider their position and may cause them to pursue more aggressive tactics to get your attention, such as posting their request on social media or going to customers, shareholders or even legal or regulatory channels. A response from a trade association is one way to acknowledge the request and perhaps provide clarifying information with putting any one company or brand in the spotlight.