Experts’ Top Takeaways on Communicating Climate Progress
Global information systems have been under immense strain for years and our belief frameworks, tolerance for opposing views, and hope for progress on intractable issues have suffered profoundly. If you believe in the role of quality independent journalism in society, it’s a bitter pill to swallow to learn that media is the least-trusted institution on climate change.
There’s a similar wake-up call for business as there is for media. Business has dropped to second-to-last place on trust to do “what is right” on climate change. This is in stark contrast with our wider annual Trust findings from January, which suggested business is the most trusted and the only institution considered both ethical and competent. This lack of trust in business on climate change, combined with a lack of trust in the media, underscores the critical importance of communications and information integrity to make climate progress.
Across the 14 countries we surveyed this autumn, we found that as trust in our institutions to deliver on climate change continues to slip, there’s less room for optimism about climate solutions. Optimism is essential to the climate movement, as climate optimists are much more likely to advocate about climate to their representatives or their peers and make major changes in their lives.
The report also underscores the central role of expertise in overcoming pessimism and building optimism. We took our own advice and invited four outstanding climate leaders – each an expert in their field — to reflect and weigh-in on how to act on and communicate about climate progress. I had the privilege of hosting the conversation for an audience of hundreds of Edelman clients. Here are some excerpts:
Marina Grossi, President, Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development, and former negotiator for Brazil at the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
We have to focus on people and nature and try to translate this for how it impacts everyone's lives.
Marina said the report’s focus on optimism is the most important takeaway, because optimism can encourage companies to move forward on climate change progress. Companies have made commitments, but growing optimism within the public makes it more likely for them to get on board with making progress happen.
She added that there is an “ocean of opportunity” for businesses to follow a new model that is more climate friendly. But to act on the opportunities ahead of them, companies must put people first in their solutions. It’s especially important to put people first when instituting climate solutions in places where people's quality of life is low, like in the Amazon, where the BCSD, her organization, has worked extensively.
Luis Alvarado, Head of Strategic Public-Private-Philanthropic Partnerships, The World Economic Forum, and former Senior Strategic Advisor for Climate Affairs, Energy Resilience & Emergency Response for the U.K.’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy
It's going to require a new type of global collaboration. And it's going to require every company, government, foundation, and media outlet to work in ways that we're not using.
Luis underscored that addressing climate change has been a particular challenge for businesses that are forced to switch to systems with “green premiums.” All institutions must work together with business to shift their business models faster — business cannot do it alone.
He also said that the media should highlight the areas where business sectors are already making substantial progress to encourage momentum in other sectors. For example, EV sales have risen significantly in recent years and renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuel in some places.
John Marshall, CEO, Potential Energy Coalition and Professor of Marketing at Dartmouth College. Former Chief Strategy and Growth Officer at Lippincott
Consumers don't believe that enough is being done. So [companies] should really have marquee projects that you can point to that affect actual people's lives.
John, whose organization conducts significant research into narratives about climate change, said businesses should realize that talking about climate change is “a smart thing and a safe thing” to do — but that when companies do share their actions to address climate change, they must humanize the language. Rather than talking about decarbonization at a high level, make the actions that your business is taking more concrete and relevant to people’s day-to-day lives.
John said that his research reinforces Edelman’s climate Trust findings, which show that 93 percent of respondents recognize that climate change poses a serious and imminent threat to the planet. His company’s data suggest that action on climate change is far less polarizing in the U.S. than we sometimes allow ourselves to believe.
Riddhima Yadav, Vice President, Brookfield Asset Management, and Non-Residential Fellow at the Aspen Institute’s Energy and Environment Program
It is incredibly important for the public and the private sector within the financial industry to work together to collaborate on models where we can actually rebuild that trust. One of the ways to do that is to really partner on mobilizing capital, because I do believe that capital is a key part of how we're going to build this trust — where you’re really putting your money where your mouth is.
Riddhima talked powerfully about “progress over perfection,” emphasizing that capital markets function on trust. A recent lack of trust has led to a lack of finance for climate transition flowing to emerging markets. High expectations for business to act on climate change can keep some companies from communicating about any progress for fear of being criticized for not being perfect — but progress is key.
My top takeaway from the conversation? Every CEO, CCO, Chief Sustainability Officer, CMO, General Counsel, Chief People Officer, and CFO needs to push for an information integrity strategy sitting right up there with your cybersecurity and business continuity plans. It should govern the goals you set, how you communicate tangible progress, and how you make the information accessible for different groups. Without it, you will be part of the problem, not building the optimism we sorely need.
Alex Thompson serves as Edelman’s Global Chair of Corporate Affairs and Global Chair of Impact.