The following is a summary of remarks I delivered to employees today in an all employee townhall.
As the leader of a family business, I have been reflecting deeply since the summer. The extreme weather events shocked me — including the floods in Germany, fires in California and the Arctic, cyclones in Bangladesh, and the dire UN report. Now, just two days after COP26 has concluded in Glasgow, it’s clear that we must strive to do more. The importance of this meeting cannot be understated. The Glasgow Climate Pact reaffirms the aspiration is that the world limits warming to 1.5C. But we’re not on track. The government hasn’t done it. We have to partner with the private sector. We need to do everything we can to get us as close to that goal as possible. Calls to action from you have caused me to think about how we must do more. We are the largest firm in our industry. Over the past 18 months, we’ve worked together to help one another and our clients in addressing multiple crises — Covid-19, systemic racism, threats to democracy itself. We have a responsibility to do the same in addressing the climate emergency. We are building who we want to be in the future; the change agents, the partners for businesses that will make the change.
Here’s my view:
- The climate emergency is the biggest crisis we face as a society. The consequences of not meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement — the global framework to mitigate the most dangerous impacts of climate change — are projected to be devastating.
- We must all — every one of us — every business and government — play a role to be a part of the solution. Progress will be made by engaging all honest and committed players — that includes all industries and sectors. We need an inclusive approach, one that covers the big tent, otherwise we will not get where we need to go on this journey.
- And as the world’s population grows to almost 10 billion people by 2050, we need to ensure a transition to a low-carbon economy is equitable. This includes providing more and ever-cleaner energy and food security to meet growing demands.
- In this context, we think very carefully about which businesses we work for. We are proud of our client relationships. We’ve evolved our portfolio over the years and stopped work in certain industries as we’ve learned more. We recognize the importance of our work — we listen, learn and adapt.
- Activists have a legitimate role to play in calling attention to the climate emergency. I welcome this.
- I’m proud we have a culture of belief-driven employees at Edelman, and I have met with employees who were fervent and informed on all aspects of the issue. I look forward to the dialogue and more of them.
These are the principles that will guide our evolution as a firm:
- Work with those committed to accelerating action. We have enormous potential to accelerate change through counsel, support and challenge of our clients. We will lean in strongly to the task at hand.
- Put science and facts first. We seek a better-informed public on climate issues so that we enable swift and equitable action. We will ONLY be led by the science and base our work on objective, factual and substantiated data.
- Advance best practices and standards. Communications has a critical role in addressing the climate emergency. We will work collectively across our industry to develop best practices on climate communications.
- Ensure inclusivity. We will bring our employees, across levels and diverse voices, into a discussion on our work on climate change. We will listen and be respectful of the full range of differing views. That means listening to everyone, including our critics.
- Focus on a just transition. Climate change is about systems change. We need to focus on how climate change affects people, livelihoods and communities. Part of this is to work towards retraining for those impacted by energy transition, but also emergency preparation for those at risk of flooding and other natural disasters.
- Hold ourselves accountable. We hold ourselves and our clients accountable to continual progress, with transparency on results through regular reporting.
Based on these principles, effective immediately, these are the actions we will take:
- We will conduct a 60-day portfolio review through the lens of our principles. We will assess our work from marketing to public affairs to corporate reputation and digital. We have started this review and will report on its outcomes in 60 days. This assessment will help us set the standard for our work going forward.
- We will establish and publicize science and values-based criteria for engagement with clients. This goes farther than our principle of not accepting work from those who aim to deny climate change. We will not take on any work that maintains the status quo, or is focused on delaying progress towards a net-zero carbon future. We will support companies that are committed to the Paris Agreement and transparent in reporting their progress in accelerating their transition to net-zero emissions. We will continue to use our Trust platform to motivate the right behaviors, including recent Sustainability and Investor ESG Trust studies. Our insights about Trust enable us to facilitate unprecedented collaboration and action across all sectors, clients and individuals. We will use our muscle in communications to power consumer behavior change and innovations.
- We will join with our industry peers to formalize clear criteria for climate communications — truth and facts that enable good decisions. We will ensure sustainability claims can be easily substantiated to ensure consumers can trust marketing messages. We will work with regulatory bodies and industry leaders including the World Federation of Advertisers and American Association of Advertising Agencies. We will also roll out a curriculum developed in conjunction with universities that establishes best practices in global climate communications — for our teams, our clients and the entire industry.
- We have invested in our climate change expertise. Effective today, we’ve created Edelman Impact — a new global practice intended to harness expertise across our existing ESG, Purpose and Sustainability offerings. Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital, as senior advisor and lead of Edelman Impact, and Robert Casamento joins as our first-ever global head of Climate. Deanna Tallon will serve in the newly created role of managing director, Sustainability. These hires will bolster Edelman’s already strong global team of Purpose and ESG leaders. We need to bring in the best outside expertise, as we have done for critical challenges like COVID, racial equity and voting.
- We will establish an internal, employee task force to orchestrate a series of intra-Edelman conversations about the climate emergency, and how Edelman can play a constructive role in advancing responsible solutions. This multi-generational, multi-level and multi-ideological group of employees will solicit input from colleagues and help shape and evolve our strategy. The senior leadership of the firm will listen. And while we might not all agree, we must respect one another — having constructive dialogue among ourselves and our clients. Edelman operates as a global team and I want all team members to support each other in this effort.
- We will establish an independent climate and sustainability committee at the board level. This will ensure that we hold ourselves accountable to our commitments. It will be led by an Edelman board member, to focus on our path forward and ensure we hold ourselves accountable to our commitments. We will create and distribute a recurring report on what we’re doing and progress against our principles and actions.
- We will walk the talk in our own operations. We have made a board-level commitment to set a science-based target in line with 1.5C. We will reduce air travel, hybrid workplace and smaller office spaces (three tangibles we will hold ourselves to). We’ll be submitting our target to the Science Based Target Initiative for independent validation and report on progress.
As an independent communications firm based on trust, we have the responsibility and privilege to be part of the climate solution. For our clients, climate change is a consumption, technological and supply chain challenge. For us, it is the obligation to do in the words of Sir David Attenborough who said, “saving our planet is now a communications challenge.” We will change the game by bringing the full force of Edelman to bear because we are able to educate and help change behavior. Let me be clear: The climate emergency requires urgent action. And I want Edelman to be the agency of choice for any institution committed to climate action. Today is the first step of the next phase of this firm. We are evolving through ambitious principles and actions. There’s no time to waste — we’re going to bring the best of Edelman every day to this global challenge.
Richard Edelman is CEO of Edelman.