Getting Climate Communications Right

Friday 06 September, 2019

What’s the role of business? Has this changed? Isn’t it time to do things differently?

Opening the first #WSTalks session, the room crowded with business leaders, EU Institution folk and NGO campaigners had already understood that we are collectively facing a climate emergency. Under the leadership of Nora Lawton, Co-MD of Weber Shandwick Brussels, the full stakeholder spectrum had gathered because they already knew it’s time to do things differently.

‘It’s the whole community together that creates change.’ Nora Lawton

The September 3rd event marked a sea change in doing EU policy – to listen, learn and engage with critical friends is the new normal. Accepting the climate emergency means accepting new ways of doing business. Out of our silos and into the circle of transparency and trust.

Our expert panel, that enlightened and entertained all at once, shared powerful insights on brand activism, corporate pledges and misaligned policy and practice, in the context of the climate crisis.

Jan Dirk Kemming author of the book ‘Brands as Political Players’ shared data that demonstrated the opportunities for companies to step up to new levels of leadership, to maintain reputation and to retain both customers and employees.  Jan Dirk referred to the notion of “connected capitalism” coined by Coca Cola’s former Chairman and CEO, Neville Isdell – a call for companies to connect their bottom line with a social conscience as an industry standard. Kemming argued that public affairs today should play a key role in how brands appear on the public stage – and said that it is time to‘make public affairs public again’.

‘Brands are becoming political actors’ Jan Dirk Kemming, Weber Shandwick

Ursula Woodburn from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership described the growing pressure on companies to make ambitious pledges and the need for systemic change to align with the 1.5-degree pledge to be launched at the September UN General Assembly and with the anticipated European Green Deal.

‘There is no choice now about whether to decarbonize and reach net zero. The question is how.’ Ursula Woodburn, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

Rachel Owens from anti-corruption NGO Global Witness shared evidence that many companies’ environmental pledges are not matching up with their business decisions and referred specifically to the worrying scale of deforestation. In the world of radical transparency, business is open to investigation and should walk the talk on climate related pledges to avoid misalignment. Inaction is no longer a realistic option.

‘Eco-anxiety is coming from the lack of political leadership on climate. What are we afraid of?’ Rachel Owens, Global Witness

The event was chaired by Jo Sullivan, senior sustainability advisor to Weber Shandwick Brussels and took place in the same week as young climate activist, Greta Thunberg arrived in New York to begin her advocacy drive in the run up to the December COP25 global climate Summit.

In conclusion, getting climate communication right means aligning company pledges with practice through a holistic approach across the business, and engaging with critical friends. And it means showing up, fully committed to engage in constructive debate at innovative events like #WSTalks.

Our next event, ‘Navigating the European Green Deal’ will take place on October 24. See you then.

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