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Bess Winston

Bess Winston: The PR Trailblazer Shaping Stories, Seizing Success

In the bustling world of corporate sustainability communications, one name shines bright as a guiding force behind innovative and impactful public relations strategies. Picture this: a boardroom filled with eager executives, each seeking to elevate their company’s image and connect with their target audience on a deeper level. In the midst of this scene stands Bess Winston, a Senior Partner at the purpose-driven global integrated marketing agency, FINN Partners.

Her mission is crystal clear: to empower companies, associations and non-profit organizations with the means to articulate their stories effectively and champion their causes among the audiences that matter most.

As the spotlight turns toward Bess Winston, it becomes evident why she is the quintessential leader to spearhead sustainability communications at FINN. Her profound understanding of the industry honed over decades of experience, sets her apart as a visionary communicator. Bess knows that the heart of effective public relations lies in education, engagement and influence. It’s about more than just crafting press releases or planning events; it’s about building authentic connections and fostering genuine relationships.

Bess Winston’s approach is nothing short of transformative. She envisions custom tools that revolutionize traditional practices, propelling her clients to success with unparalleled precision. Under her guidance, sustainability communications at FINN has earned a reputation for inspiring solutions that drive real change and produce remarkable results.

Beyond her impressive professional accomplishments, Bess exudes a contagious passion for her craft. Her energy and enthusiasm radiate through every project she undertakes, inspiring her team and clients alike to embrace creativity and boldness. To her, public relations is not merely a career; it’s a calling to make a positive impact on the world.

Bess Winston is illuminating the path for businesses and organizations seeking to reach new heights. Through her unparalleled expertise and unwavering commitment to success, Bess has solidified her place as a revered leader in the B2B landscape, leaving an indelible mark on the industry she loves.

Let’s delve into the intercepts of the interview we conducted with Bess on her approach to creating a positive impact in public relations!

Can you provide a brief overview of your background and experience in the field of sustainability?

I work with clients to create sustainability communications initiatives that advance reputations, manage and mitigate risk, build brand awareness and influence stakeholders to act or think differently.  I have had the pleasure of serving as a trusted thought partner for iconic brands and blue-chip companies as they respond to shifting societal priorities around Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices.

In my work with companies, associations, governments and nonprofit organizations across the globe, I help them tell their sustainability stories to the audiences that matter most, identifying the center of gravity of ESG and innovative sustainability initiatives and then connecting the dots to social impact and business value. Over the course of my career, I have worked with global consumer brands ranging from Aveda to McDonald’s, leading global manufacturers like Tetra Pak and Avery Dennison and governments and NGOs such as the Amazon Biodiversity Center, the World Bank and the Global Center on Adaptation.

I studied Business Strategies for Environmental Sustainability at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and hold an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a B.A. in History from Tufts University. I am a 2022 recipient of the global Women in Sustainability Leadership Awards (WSLA).

What motivated you to pursue a career focused on sustainability? How long have you been working at FINN Partners and what are your main responsibilities as the Senior Partner?

In 2013, following sustainability leadership roles at several global public relations agencies, I founded the Winston Agency, a boutique communications shop with a specialized focus on sustainability communications and advocacy. At that time, the transformative impact of sustainable practices was well underway.  But as I saw it, corporate narratives and storytelling about progress were not advancing in alignment with these changes.  I recognized a need to embed sustainability into broader corporate and organizational communications and to actively frame the value creation—to society and commerce—within essential business stories.

After nearly a decade of success, the Winston Agency was acquired in 2022 by the global integrated marketing firm, FINN Partners, where we continue to bring our sustainability counsel and expertise to global clients.

What is the overall sustainability strategy of FINN Partners and what are its key pillars or focus areas?

Sustainability and Purpose are deeply integrated into all aspects of who FINN Partners is as an agency and how we approach client work.  Our founder, Peter Finn, believes that true business success depends upon moral leadership. When an organization has a purpose, it can achieve greater prosperity than one that puts profits over people and the planet.

The issues of our time, from climate change to social justice, are clear and urgent. In a time of increasing political division, purpose-driven organizations have a responsibility to take the lead and drive positive change to build a better future for all. FINN’S Purpose Practice has a depth of expertise across ESG Communications, Environmental Policy, Diversity and Inclusion and CSR and Social Impact.

How do you ensure that sustainability is integrated into the company’s operations and decision-making processes?

Support and buy-in from the top are critical, this includes the C-suite and boards of directors. Meanwhile, bottom-up education and awareness about the impacts of sustainable practices directed to employees and customers is another important factor for the success of any company’s sustainability initiatives.

What frameworks or standards do you follow to report on the company’s sustainability performance?

FINN Partners is a member of the UN Global Compact and their Communications of Progress follows various frameworks and standards such as CDP, GRI, SASB, ILO, NASDAQ, UNRISD, and WEF. FINN also participates in the EcoVadis Sustainability Ratings and holds a Bronze Ranking.

Are there any specific environmental goals or targets that the company has set and how do you track progress towards those goals?  

FINN Partners was founded on the belief that we would be purpose-driven in our work and help create a positive, enduring impact in the world.  In helping clients achieve those goals, we must ourselves be committed to creating that positive social impact in our own operations.

As a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNCG), we are committed to operating our business in a manner consistent with these principles. We are also benchmarking ourselves on our environmental, social and governance practices through a third-party evaluation process (Ecovadis) and are committed to minimizing potentially adverse environmental impacts from our operations.

How do you balance the need for renewable energy with the existing infrastructure and energy demands?

While certainly there is a global urgency to transition to the use of fossil fuels to ensure warming stays below 1.5C, the reality is that change from petrochemical, gas, transportation and heavy industry segments will have the biggest impact and this sector cannot move at the pace that change is needed.

Therefore, all options from all sectors of business and society that surround this core sector need to be on the table, moving concurrently toward a decarbonized future. The more progress that is made outside this core sector, the more pressure on the core to take action. Nature-based solutions and other innovative product or process improvements shouldn’t be overlooked as a means for meeting today’s needs without compromising our planetary future. One example of this is efficiency in processing hardware and cooling systems for data centers, which have significant energy demands, that will only grow as cloud-based technology use increases. 

How do you plan to adapt or position FINN Partners to address these future sustainability challenges?

Prioritizing society’s needs must align with business performance goals. FINN believes that good global corporate citizenship starts with defining values, aligning to corporate priorities and creating a plan that connects with stakeholders’ expectations. This is central to how we expect to drive meaningful change in communities, regions, countries and across the world in pursuit of a more resilient future.

What trends or developments do you foresee in the field of sustainability, particularly in the energy sector, in the coming years?

In the last few decades, we have seen a movement toward ‘greener’ behaviors, like recycling. Today, those behaviors are fast becoming table stakes with respect to product performance. As a result, we are seeing progress along the continuum toward innovative renewable solutions that limit harm to scarce natural resources.

Progress for tomorrow must advance to more regenerative practices, which move beyond protecting and preserving natural systems to actively restoring and revitalizing them.  especially in industries like agriculture where innovative regenerative solutions can improve crop yields while also limiting the impact on the environment.