Getting climate communications right

A company without a climate pledge is no longer taken seriously. Getting climate communication right is now business critical, as GCS speaker Jo Sullivan explains.

More is expected of companies today than ever before as partners of government in addressing the climate emergency. Companies’ pledges, practices and public positioning are under the spotlight.  Does it add up to one coherent whole or is policy fragmented? Is there a disconnect between pledge and practice? Do employees walk the corporate talk?

At the Global Communication Summit, I’ll be moderating a panel on sustainable communications, from circular economy to climate change. Joining me will be a diverse selection of experts, including Daniel Mittler, Global Campaign Leader for Greenpeace, and Brian Carroll, Global Head of Media Relations at Solvay. As a starting point for the debate,  and grounded in 20 years of climate communication experience, here are my three areas of  climate actions that should be on everyone’s to-do list for 2020.

  1. Harness employee activism for the climate

In September 2019, several B-corporations including Ben & Jerry’s, Intrepid Travel, Lush Cosmetics, Patagonia (whose K. Corley Kenna will also be speaking at the Global Communication Summit) and Pukka Herbs participated in the Climate Strike, many closing shops and operations. German intercity coach network Flixbus offered free rides to climate change protesters; employees were allowed to miss work to attend. In the UK a reported 1,000 companies came out in support of the strikes.

Retaining and hiring committed employees means allowing them to express their opinions on the climate crisis, also at work. Harnessing employee activism around issues such as climate change can help raise corporate ambition and speed up action.

  1. Align public affairs and public positioning

The new European Commission is also getting bolder with its climate targets. A European Green Deal with a goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050 is the promise. Climate policy surged to the top of the political agenda after environmental concerns played a major role in the European election and took center stage in Ursula von der Leyen’s pitch to become European Commission president: “I want the European Green Deal to become Europe’s hallmark”.

As media headlines on extreme weather events have become dramatic, the industries under most scrutiny as heavy users, emitters or enablers of carbon emissions are many: oil and gas, automotive, aviation and shipping, plastics and chemicals, food and agriculture, textiles and fashion, construction, cement and steel, technology and data hubs. The same industries score high in resource use, so they are equally challenged to deliver on circular economy commitments, also a priority for the new European Commission. Are there enough rare minerals on the planet for all the new smart phones and electric cars?

  1. Partnering with nature on climate ambition

At theCOP25 Summit in Santiago, Chile, December 2019, the UN International Panel on Climate Change warned that we have 12 years to make the changes necessary to reverse and subvert global climate change before we hit a tipping point.

Natural climate solutions will become a bigger part of the climate conversation. Living ecosystems like forests, mangroves, swamps and sea beds have the potential to take up significant quantities of carbon from the air and store them safely. Rewilding strategies are growing in popularity. There is a role for companies to contribute to protecting and restoring nature for its climate cooling and regenerative capacities.

Jo Sullivan moderates a panel on Getting Sustainability Communications Right at the Global Communication Summit on 28 May 2020.

About the author

Jo Sullivan is a senior sustainability communication advisor to corporate, NGO and EU institution clients. She founded Conscience Consulting in 2000 and co-founded the Transition500 Alliance in 2014, a global network of sustainability communication consultancies with offices around the world. In 2005, Jo developed the 20-20-20 by 2020 campaign on climate targets for Friends of the Earth Europe and coordinated a 27 EU country programme of advocacy, media and public mobilisation, resulting in a mass protest on Place Schuman, Brussels outside the EU Summit and huge celebration when heads of state agreed the 20-20-20 climate targets.