The following is a summary of remarks Robert Casamento, Edelman’s global climate chair, and I delivered to employees today in an all employee townhall.
I said eight weeks ago that I want Edelman to be the agency of choice for any institution committed to climate action. I meant it.
Since then, a team of our client leaders and climate impact experts have undertaken two substantive steps:
First, we have determined what we, as Edelman, want to stand for in respect to climate action.
Our firm believes that climate change is the biggest crisis we face as a society. We recognize that urgent action is needed to mitigate the most dangerous impacts of climate change on both people and planet. This requires the rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and an orderly global transition to a net-zero-carbon economy.
We also recognize that 50%+ of people do not trust climate communications (Edelman Trust Barometer November 2021 — Special Report). This is the area where we can contribute the most, to have a positive impact on affecting change. To partner with clients who are equally committed to helping drive the transition to a net-zero future, helping them act and communicate in more powerful ways. This means that we believe deeply in partnering with any client that demonstrates a commitment to action and transformation.
I believe that TRUST based on actions is the key to this transition. This puts us in a unique and privileged position — to be the creators of a “Trusted Transition,” where we guide ourselves and genuinely committed clients to action and transformation, built on a foundation of trusted communication. This Trusted Transition will look different by sector, but for each organization it will likely involve:
- Setting credible long and short-term net-zero ambitions and goals
- Taking meaningful action to meet those ambitions and transform its business
- Ensuring honest and transparent communication with all stakeholders, from employees to communities, consumers to investors.
This is where we must go.
To get there, we will embrace the operating principles I shared previously, which have now been updated based on our review:
- Work with those committed to accelerating action to Net Zero and in compliance with the Paris Accords.
- Put science and facts first.
- Advance best practices and standards for climate communications.
- We will ensure inclusivity.
- Focus on a just transition.
- Hold ourselves accountable.
Second, we have undertaken a review of our relevant client portfolio and the work we do around the world to assess whether it is consistent with our climate ambitions and values. This comprehensive internal review has identified areas where our principles will evolve the nature of the work and assignments we take on in the future.
These steps, I believe, will take us to a place where the firm can meaningfully, and demonstrably, take a leadership position in our industry on the climate crisis. I am committed to making this happen.
For the internal review, we initially focused on our work in emissions-intensive sectors. We approached this review not as an audit firm or to grade clients’ responses to the climate crisis, but through our own values and principles to inform how we can best serve our clients. We covered 330+ clients and did a deep dive on 20 emissions-intensive clients. The review was led by our climate experts, Robert Casamento, Deanna Tallon and Paul Sammon. I want to thank them personally for their hard work through the holiday season. They were assisted by our employee task force, a representative group across practices, geographies, and staff levels, co-led by Eden Lewis, New York, and Vasudevan Rangajaran, Delhi.
Our process was robust and impartial. The research included in the review was based on credible and substantiated data, including what our clients say and do and promise to do, Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) reporting and scores, the latest IPCC reports, and industry emissions pathway analysis, such as the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Net Zero by 2050 roadmap for the global energy sector. We took into consideration a broad range of perspectives (both internal and external), to help inform our approach. We used both objective and subjective criteria, taking into account short- and long-term perspectives.
We found examples where Edelman has played a key role in helping organizations acknowledge the significance of climate change and start their journey towards action. This is the type of work we want to do, we should do, and will do more of in the future.
We also found instances where:
- Clients have no public position on the Paris Agreement
- Clients with no emissions data readily available
- A few clients do not have net-zero ambitions or goals
- A few examples of communications that were susceptible to challenge and criticism by others
- Our review also found gaps in staff understanding of climate issues
We are initiating discussions with clients and account teams to confirm our findings and engage on pathways forward. As we’ve stated, we want to have a seat at the table with companies seeking change and to help them solve problems more powerfully through trusted communications. This includes rescoping our work to enable us to be in-line with our principles and collaborating to make changes.
However, we anticipate that we may have to part ways in a few instances. We cannot comment further on relationships with individual clients or client assignments, for confidentiality reasons.
Effective immediately, our core review team will serve as the Internal Climate Review panel as we continue our journey. They will advise the Client Portfolio Management Committee (CPMC) on assignments that relate to carbon-intensive industries or climate communications work. We believe that we can have strong practices in these sectors and be consistent with our principles. We are not singling out this group of clients -- we want our work to follow the principles we have laid out for ourselves, regardless of where our clients sit and what they do.
We will be investing in mandatory Climate Change Communications Training for all staff, to be completed this year, in collaboration with universities and a third-party expert partner to educate on best practices and communications standards for our industry. This will make us better client counsellors and custodians of our firm’s values.
We are finalizing an Independent Council of Climate Experts from outside the company to provide input and guidance on strategy as well as on assignments and client situations of concern. This group will review the outcomes of our initial review and work with our teams moving forward on guidelines for client suitability and work product.
We will be working with SYSTEMIQ to help Edelman further understand and define credible high-ambition transition pathways by sector and translate these pathways into high-trust communications frameworks. SYSTEMIQ is a global climate and systems change company working with leading companies, governments and financial institutions to set ambitious strategies on climate and sustainability. As previously noted, a Trusted Transition will look different for every industry and individual business.
We will fund the establishment of a Global Climate Communications Council with other communications firms that will explore ways and make recommendations for enhancing implementation of Article 12 of the Paris Agreement — i.e., “appropriate measures” on education, training, public awareness, public participation and what public access to information could look like within the official COP process—to combat the world’s climate trust deficit.
We’ll report annually on our progress, and initiatives for the communications industry at the end of each calendar year. We will share this information with our employees, clients, and the broader community. Our hope is that this transparency model and approach will be adopted more broadly by our industry.
And finally, as we said in November, 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, take the best of hybrid working and move to smaller office spaces, as we have already done in Chicago. We’ll be submitting our data to the Science Based Target Initiative for independent validation in Q2 of this year and report on progress.
As we enter our 70th year at Edelman, we recognize that we have a vital role to play — using communications to drive action, lifestyle changes and cross-industry solutions. Climate change is the biggest challenge we have in front of us, the issue that affects every client. The scale of the transition required is colossal. The global economy has never undergone a transformation this large.
Through our 20+ years of work in Trust, we recognize that the key to a trusted transition is giving people access to trustworthy information — making it available at all points in the journey — for employees, consumers, investors and communities. We accept that responsibility and are determined to be the world’s driving force behind a trusted transition.
We need to help ourselves, our clients and our industry achieve this transition — pushing for action in each industry segment. What I’ve described to you here presents us, and our clients, as we are: organizations adapting as quickly as we can to a new global operating environment where value creation for society and the planet is key to business success.
There’s much to do, but I hope what you heard today gives you the confidence that we are approaching the challenge in a serious and thoughtful way, that we are doing the right work, that we are implementing the right processes and establishing the right guidelines for true change.
We embrace the opportunity to make a difference. We attract people to Edelman who want to make change and we are the platform that will enable it.
Richard Edelman is CEO.