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Communications on climate action needs to be grounded in strategic,
results-based initiatives — always. These six approaches will help ensure that your communications are impactful in reinforcing your company’s sustainability strategy.
Thanks to mounting climate disasters, such as California’s record-breakingly
destructive wildfires and other extreme weather events across the world, climate
change has returned to the forefront of business, government and personal
conversations, sparking unprecedented interest for action. From the Global
to more recent talk of a “Green New Deal,” the conversation around climate has
never been hotter.
And neither has the planet — 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record,
ranking just behind 2016 (warmest), 2015 (second warmest) and 2017 (third
warmest). Meanwhile, a 2018 IPCC report by the said
the planet will reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial
levels by as early as 2030, precipitating the risk of even more extreme drought,
wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.
Despite the dire situation, there is reason to hope that as more companies
across the globe step up to become part of the solution for a problem they help
create, we might just stop this crisis before it’s too late. It’s also in the
best interest of businesses to take on a leadership role when it comes to
climate action, as it builds credibility with pro-climate customers and reduces
material risks in the
But even as businesses across industries recognize the dual threat and
climate change creates, communicating a plan of action remains almost as
difficult as taking action itself. Many companies that excel on integrating
sustainability and social impact into their business fail when it comes to
telling stories about their good work. Meanwhile, when companies communicate
on climate and other sustainability actions, this can serve both as a force
multiplier for achieving sustainability goals and a competitive edge to stand
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Indeed, communications can make or
a company’s sustainability strategy. Here’s what your business should keep in
mind when communicating on climate.
There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to communicating about climate change
and your company’s role in tackling it. Ask yourself who you are targeting —
everyday consumers, businesses, policymakers? And be sure to get granular — you
can narrow each audience down even further to include factors such as
socioeconomic background, gender, occupation and more. By identifying your
audience, you also know where best to meet them with the message.
Anheuser-Busch, for example, chose to communicate its plan to purchase 100
percent of its energy from renewables by 2025 by advertising during the Super
which enabled the company to reach its Bud-loving customers directly. In an effort to
inject sustainability efforts more prominently into their customers’ purchasing
journey, the LEGO Group added “Packaging from responsible sources” on the
back of all LEGO products. This was done in parallel with launching a new LEGO
set that comprises a fully functioning wind turbine with bricks made from
Climate change can be a nebulous concept, and showing your audience first-hand
impacts of both action (or inaction) can make it more salient. From farmers and
fishermen losing their
during extreme droughts, to homeowners seeing their properties crumble in a
flood — these are the very real risks we face. This doesn’t mean you should use
climate tragedies to sell your product or service; it means you should strive to
ground your lofty climate communications in the real world. This forms your
story’s beating heart.
Brands can also inspire others to address the consequences of climate change.
For example, Timberland is
calling on its consumers to put their best boot forward and join them in doing
right for the outdoors that they explore. The
outdoor footwear and clothing brand is sharing
stories from the
cities it is “greening” — alongside its efforts to reduce GHG emissions, procure
renewable energy and support nature-driven solutions to climate mitigation.
The purpose of getting your audience to care and stand behind your mission is to
inspire them to join you on your climate action journey. Sustainable clothing
brand Reformation has made
that participation easy by directly integrating carbon
offsets as part of
the shopping experience. Greentech platform
UCapture aims to mainstream this approach by
channeling funds from online shopping to climate protection projects. Joining
the climate revolution is becoming increasingly easier for the average consumer.
Climate change has become a politically and emotionally charged issue, one that
is sure to stir passions. This doesn’t mean you need to walk on eggshells, nor
strip your storytelling of all vestiges of emotion or controversy. But being
aware of the context and the specific concerns of your audiences will ensure you
can open up a frank conversation on the climate-related topics and activities
most relevant to your business. You can even engage audiences on climate action
without mentioning climate change: Some research suggests that raising health
concerns is a
more effective way to start a climate-related dialogue in the US.
is an easy platform for firms to create two-way dialogues and deliver climate
communications directly to your various audiences. In 2018, social media was
the leading source of online news
for people ages 18 to 34, even exceeding internet searches. Today, consumers
also expect authenticity and responsiveness from the businesses with which they
Companies including Microsoft, International Paper and Home Depot
have been quick to include social media channels into their sustainability and
climate communications mix to ensure an ongoing dialogue on activities they
In an era of ‘alternative facts,’ backing up a strong message with science-based
facts makes it much more trustworthy than relying on semantics. If you’re among
the growing list of companies to enact a climate change action plan based on
and are beginning to operationalize it, it’s time to commence communicating it.
This doesn’t mean that you should flood your communications with data points —
but backing marketing claims and sustainability-related decisions with real,
relevant impact figures should become standard practice to ensure credibility
Co-working startup WeWork recently announced a controversial new environmental
policy to no longer serve
at its corporate events. This internal memo reached WeWork’s 200,000 members and
6,000 staff, and was certain to have raised a few eyebrows. To mitigate any
anticipated pushback upfront, WeWork made sure to emphasize how its decision was
in line with new scientific
on the positive environmental impacts that cutting meat consumption can have,
especially when done collectively. The company explained that it could reduce
its climate impact by more than 445 million pounds of CO2 by eliminating meat,
not to mention saving billions of gallons of water and millions of animal lives.
The latest Edelman Trust
reveals that people have shifted their trust to the relationships within their
control, most notably their employers. There is also an expectation for CEOs of
companies to speak up and lead
This means more transparency in what companies communicate and how they
communicate. Your audience needs to be convinced that you are really walking the
walk. Sound operational evidence and verified impact data is one way to provide
Companies that have rolled out ambitious carbon-neutrality programs must also
show how their investments are creating real impact on the ground. Signify,
the world leader in lighting solutions, has done this by consistently tracking
and showing the
of the carbon-reduction projects it supports as part of its corporate climate
All companies have social and environmental impacts — some are further along
than others in addressing the negative ones. While you should give yourself
credit where it’s due, don’t be afraid to talk about the areas where you still
need to improve. Likewise, don’t be afraid to talk about your flaws and
failures. Vulnerability is a source of
acknowledging your climate impacts gives you license to talk about acting on
Fear of falling short on commitments is the number one reason companies don’t
set ambitious goals in the first place. But creating a master narrative of
constant improvement and by being open about the challenges you face will help
ensure the authenticity of your communications around climate action.
The bottom line: Communications on climate action needs to be grounded in
strategic, results-based initiatives — always. These six approaches will help
ensure that your communications are impactful in reinforcing your company’s
Published Apr 30, 2019 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Jonathan Hanwit is co-founder of thinkPARALLAX, a strategic brand consultancy that works with companies to define and activate their purpose.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.