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Marketing and Comms
The Climate Communication Playbook:
Establish Trust to Maximize Impact

The most meaningful climate-communication strategies create an avenue for conversations rooted in hope and action. Embrace this opportunity to educate and build trust by aligning your message with your values and contributing to a positive cultural commentary.

Media exposure is a powerful tactic for amplifying messages and movements across business, politics, culture and academia — proven over millennia to spur action and catalyze dialogue. After all, what’s more impactful than being a relevant part of public conversations?

When it comes to talking about climate initiatives, however, public-facing communications are layered with complexities. To start, the work of those in the climate space — be it climate-tech startups, climate scientists or company sustainability initiatives — can be highly technical and complex, often proving a challenge to explain succinctly what it is you do and why anyone should pay attention.

At the same time, there is broad skepticism, or even blatant distrust, towards companies promising solutions to the climate crisis — thanks to years’ worth of companies publicly overpromising and overhyping their environmental commitments, or greenwashing. Consequently, any journalist (or responsible consumer, for that matter) worth their salt will do a deep dive into your work before covering you or investing in your services — to see if your actions add up to your public promises.

A new era for PR

This is where climate communications come into play. Words inform realities; stories shape perceptions. The public relations field is a vehicle for change, both good and bad. Meaningful media coverage can uplift the profiles of changemakers and experts — galvanizing action and creating paths forward with solutions for a better future. On the other hand, PR has also been used as a frontline weapon to dilute the climate crisis — exploited by players such as Big Oil to paint climate change as a matter of opinion and partisan line. These highly successful media campaigns delayed climate action, glorified oil and gas, and slandered the credibility of scientists who raised the red flag.

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Today, there’s some serious hurdles that stand in the way of disseminating the messages of those offering meaningful solutions. But a new generation of impact-driven communicators are leveraging media relations to undo the damage caused by Big Oil’s deception campaigns and fast track legitimate climate innovation. Organizations such as Clean Creatives are building a climate coalition for the communications industry that is rooted in trust — amplifying the power of storytelling in service to climate action. I’m honored to be a part of this new guard; it’s a responsibility I take seriously.

In my work with companies across both emerging and well-established environmental sectors, time and again the two most successful aspects of any effective climate-communications strategy are its ability to educate and build trust. Do people understand what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and who you’re impacting? Do they feel confident that you’re the best option to do this work?

How do you talk about what you do?

When it comes to climate initiatives, communicating your work concisely can be hard. Ever had a conversation with a scientist or data engineer in another field using approaches that are foreign to you? You likely walked away with your head spinning. To reach a mainstream audience, they need to be able to grasp what you do in order to buy into your approach. Running through a deck filled with technical jargon isn’t going to cut it: I need you to bring me there swiftly and painlessly. Build my intrigue, make it relatable to my life and make it easily digestible.

Are you trying to communicate a highly technical scientific finding? Meet your audience where they are: Use terms that are accessible to the audience you’re trying to reach. Take advantage of this opportunity to inform and teach people about the science behind your work — but do it in a way that includes them in the conversation. Break down the barrier to entry that can so often shut out people without scientific backgrounds and use language that invites them to be a part of these discussions.

Not sure of where to begin? Cultivate a deep understanding of your target audience: What news outlets do they read? What do they value? What can you uniquely provide them? Digestible and compelling storytelling will make or break your ability to broadly grow your brand recognition.

Your local impact speaks volumes

Climate change is a local story — its impacts vary wildly depending on where in the world you live, with low-income communities and vulnerable people at exponentially higher risk from its worst effects.

Climate solutions also vary greatly depending on the location where they’re deployed and the communities they seek to engage. It’s impossible to provide one universal blanket solution without accounting for a localized context.

More often than not, the common denominator for these innovations is that they rely on community support and buy-in to succeed. How — and if — you talk about your local partners speaks volumes.

Be aware of the language you use*.* The subtleties of language can convey potent — sometimes unintended — messages. For example, savior vs. saved; provider vs helpless. We talk a lot about the potent messages hidden within language with my client ReSeed, a leading carbon marketplace: They partner with smallholder, traditional and indigenous farmers around the globe — the majority of whom live at or below poverty levels.

Think “partner,” not “beneficiary.” For ReSeed’s operations, these farmers are the star of the show — their regenerative-farming techniques reduce deforestation, feed biodiversity, bolster food supply chains, improve soil health, and increase the amount of carbon drawn down from the atmosphere. The company’s operations and financial model put smallholder farmers at the center; its communications strategy needs to echo that. In action, this manifests as thoughtful and intentional language selection, and publicly amplifying farmers’ expertise and voices in tandem with those of the company’s founders.

As your organization publicly broadcasts its impact, highlight the expertise and insights of your local partners. For every bold claim you make, have the data to back it up — and, when possible, share that data publicly.

Best of all, hand the microphone over to your local partners to share their own stories, perspectives and expertise. What impact does your partnership have on their lives? Give them the opportunity to speak for themselves. This will legitimize your company’s climate claims, and add a depth and personalization that drives home the imperative for the work that you’re doing.

No one person or organization will ever be the singular climate hero, so avoid positioning yours as such. Be mindful of eradicating any semblance of saviorism, colonialism or power inequities in your messaging. The success of climate promises and goals will be defined by the buildup of actions taken over time. Your company’s words and its actions need to line up every single time.

Inspire a cultural conversation

The most meaningful climate-communication strategies create an avenue for conversations rooted in hope and action. Prioritize contributing to a larger societal narrative that creates positive conversation to cultivate hope and inspire action. Shift public discourse around the climate crisis away from doom and gloom by highlighting meaningful wins and global successes.

We’re in an age where every company, no matter what they do, is a climate company: No matter the sector or output, every organization has a responsibility to address its environmental impact and incorporate climate action into its model. If your organization is looking to communicate that publicly in any capacity, you will more than likely be met at some point by critics and cynicism. Public skepticism may feel like a hindrance or impediment to implementing your solution — I challenge you to shift that mentality.

Understanding the root cause of skepticism will aid you in amplifying your company’s climate story and ultimately bolster your impact. Your climate-communication strategy holds the potential to fast-track climate innovation, invite people to a conversation and propel forward a movement.

Embrace this opportunity to educate and build trust by aligning your message with your values and contributing to a positive cultural commentary.