This important question was posed at a lunchtime event that Madano recently hosted with Chris Stark of the Committee on Climate Change and with clients on what companies should be doing to tackle net zero.
It is a question that will doubtlessly arise time and again given the sharp focus on climate change, net zero and last month’s official launch of COP26 to be hosted in Glasgow in November.
How should communicators act?
1. BE A LEADER AND DEMONSTRATE LEADERSHIP WITH CLEAR NETZERO-FOCUSED MESSAGING
The net zero challenge and climate change aren’t going to go away anytime soon so respond to it now. Those companies with clear, consistent and contemporary messaging on net zero are going to be better placed to respond to the inevitable questions that will arise about carbon mitigation strategies than those that aren’t. This is the new net zero paradigm.
Define what your company’s net zero narrative is and that you have a plan to reduce your carbon footprint.
Present how your company or organisation is helping others tackle the net zero challenge too. This might be through technology, better and more sustainable ways of working or awareness raising among employees of the net zero challenge thereby stimulating lasting behavioural change.
Everyone recognises that every company impacts the environment – some more than others. This is particularly the case in the energy and environment sector, which generates the electricity that we need to live our modern lives.
Within a few years, I believe it will be incumbent upon all decent-sized organisations and companies as well as SMEs to outline their net zero plans.
Those companies that don’t do this will likely be left behind. The clock’s ticking.
As one sector expert remarked to me recently, in the following decade it is possible that producing and emitting carbon will become akin to how most now view smoking as socially harmful and a societal ill.
The proof of the pudding with these recent initiatives will ultimately be in the delivery of net zero but it’s a good start.
2. BE AUTHENTIC OR RISK GETTING CALLED OUT
Authenticity is key. The new ‘net zero neighbourhood’ is a tough one. It’s also becoming an increasingly competitive one in which to communicate. In the new net zero paradigm don’t fake it. Remember that no one is expecting every company to become carbon neutral overnight. But there is growing expectation for corporates to define what net zero means to their firm and its employees highlighting what that change will be.
Indeed, there has been an immediate backlash from environmental groups towards the aviation industry’s netzero targets released in January, which failed to convince many with how the industry would be able to reduce its carbon footprint given that the number of flights is set to rise rapidly by 2050.
You’d be right in thinking that environmental groups have called out companies, particularly the aviation sector, for years. Easyjet was targeted late last year after publishing its netzero plans.
The difference now is that the public is being bombarded by the net zero message from government, business, industry and NGOs, and that some leading companies and organisations have convincingly articulated what the net zero pathway is and how they will get there.
That’s not to mention prominent pressure groups like Extinction Rebellion, which have quickly and effectively changed the dynamic around public protests on climate change.
Tellingly, The New Yorker recently called out a couple of corporates that seem to be hedging their bets with net zero rhetoric but whose actions suggest that profit still lies ahead of purpose. There will certainly be more of this to come as the level of scrutiny on net zero increases.
Under pressure from shareholders, banks such as Barclays are also introducing stronger limits on fossil fuel investments.
Perhaps of most interest will be how established energy majors will react to the net zero challenge. BP’s announcement last week on its plans to become a netzero business by 2050 are monumental in scope for an industry that has underpinned modern societies by exploiting the world’s carbon-based resources for our prosperity.
Will they develop their renewable energy portfolios quickly enough to sate the desire of many who want to see change? Only time will tell.
It is vitally important to be authentic about change and how you communicate it.
3. COMPANIES WITH A STRONG NET ZERO PLAN AND THE COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY AROUND IT, CAN GAIN SOLID COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
Building on the points above, it’s not a great leap to argue too that those companies and organisations with strong net zero plans and solid communications strategies will be at a competitive advantage vis-à-vis their peers.
Those companies communicating actively and convincingly about their net zero plans are simply far more likely to become more trusted than the companies taking the fifth on climate change.
Why? Let’s take a look at the general public’s growing concern towards the environment.
According to BEIS’s public attitudes tracker, in March last year, 80% of the public said they were either fairly concerned (45%) or very concerned (35%) about climate change – the highest numbers ever.
In the recent UK General Election in December, there was the first televised climate change debate among political leaders and climate featured prominently in every party’s manifesto.
The Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, has galvanized millions around the world, particularly the young, with her support of climate strikes and direct action.
With record temperatures in many parts of the world and prominent media focus on extreme climate change related weather events including the Australian wildfires, Indonesian floods and winter storms in the UK, it’s likely that public concern towards climate change will grow not wither.
This concern is almost certainly going to be confirmed on a global level by the UN’s Mission 1.5 opinion poll, which will be the world’s largest survey on climate change.
In the new ‘net zero paradigm’, it is inescapable that those businesses and organisations that can define and communicate net zero and purpose will be at a strong competitive advantage vis-à-vis their peers at a time when public opinion behind taking stronger action to protect the climate has never been higher.
If you would like a conversation about net zero and how communications around net zero, purpose or COP26 might impact your business please feel free to drop me a line directly at: [email protected]