Posted: 29 Apr. 2021 4 min. read

Communications for a changing climate

The moment to act and communicate on climate change is now. The world is sitting up and listening intently. Organizations have a mandate to take action and an opportunity to help mold the future in the face of a changing climate.

In The Global Risks Report 2021, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reports that climate action failure will be among the top global risks in terms of impact over the next 10 years. The WEF has noted: “The near-term consequences of climate change add up to a planetary emergency.”

Accordingly, the last 12 months have seen a rapid increase in the number of climate-related commitments. More brands are promising to reach net-zero carbon, recognizing the need to strategically manage climate risks, and take advantage of the opportunities to innovate and change. Driving business transformation can enhance the likelihood of success in a low-carbon future. As businesses share their journeys, strategies and triumphs in their climate commitments, they inspire others to follow suit. However, there is still more to be done on this collaborative journey.

Why now is the time for action

More than 200 of the world’s largest enterprises predict that climate change could cost them a combined total of $1 trillion in the years to come. However, action on climate change is important from more than just an economic standpoint. It is considered the ethical thing to do, with sustainable practices increasingly impacting consumer perception and loyalty. In the near future, actions undertaken surrounding climate change may be the key lens through which consumers judge organizations. For example, employees use climate as a barometer of their company’s commitment to being a responsible business. Meanwhile, 43 percent of consumers actively choose brands based on their environmental values. Specialist stakeholders are also stepping up their demands.

Regulators, governments and investors expect to see organizations take committed action on climate change. The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) continues to gain momentum and participation, with nearly 1,500 organizations expressing their support, including representation from every major type of financial market participant.

To satisfy this thirst for information and seize the opportunity to strengthen their reputation, companies can commit to and bolster their climate-related communications. 

Improving communications 

Here are some key considerations companies can keep in mind when setting a sustainability communications strategy.

  1. Anchor it in the company’s purpose: Embed the communications strategy in the core purpose of the business. Where necessary, reimagine that purpose and what it means through the lens of climate change.
  2. Talk about business change: When sustainability and business strategy are aligned, communications have a greater impact. An organization’s climate stories hold greater value as they become about the company’s developments in innovation and product development – enabling the business to connect environmental impacts to human ones.
  3. Mobilize the executive team: Catalyze executive leadership around a bold and ambitious plan, backed by a set of real commitments. Anticipate that employees will want to see the leadership team act and communicate how every employee can contribute.
  4. Find the big conversations: Where possible, aim to place the organization’s climate stories firmly in the context of high profile sustainable solutions such as: electric cars, and on-site renewables, for greater relevance and to draw attention from policymakers.
  5. Share stories: With a strategic direction set, companies can inspire people through sharing progress updates and success stories, leveraging the brand’s proximity with consumers, to encourage behavior change.
  6. Measure performance: Connect the company’s actions with a recognized measurement framework, so that disclosures are comparable and consistent. With the arrival of TCFD, climate reporting has moved from a ‘theoretical concept’ toward realized impacts with robust data.

How sustainability and communications teams can be catalysts for change

In any organization, communications should sit at the heart of its response to climate change,  with a mission to advocate and accelerate change, whilst building resilience to risk. As one corporate affairs leader puts it: “Be your organization’s chief conscience officer.”

Both sustainability and communications teams are naturally adept at spotting changes in public attitudes, sharing stories, motivating audiences to buy into change, and setting out a clear vision for the future. Applying these skills to climate change and sustainability can help the world stand up and take notice.  

Making shifts to shape future communications plans

Companies can also consider these strategic shifts when developing and executing sustainability communications plans:

  1. Use targeted communications: Whilst one-size-fits-all messages work for broader concepts, increasingly sophisticated stakeholders expect targeted information, with the opportunity to ask difficult questions and receive insightful answers.
  2. Be forward-looking: While change starts today, businesses should be prepared to share their vision, supported by a detailed roadmap, covering the next 10 to 20 years, framing their customers’ choices in a way that motivates them to make climate-conscious decisions.
  3. Turn information into action: Brands often excel at sharing information on climate change, yet struggle with telling their audiences what to do about it. Broad brushstrokes are not enough to inspire action.
  4. 4Move from the margin to mainstream: Where once it was a fringe issue for activists, climate change has become a mainstream corporate and consumer issue. So it is important for companies to ask: “Where is climate change in our corporate narrative?”
  5. Make it permanent: Communications teams should get ready now for a decade-long journey on climate change. It cannot be this month’s trendy topic for a news release. Plan for it to be a permanent, core pillar of communications activities.

So what can organizations think about in the near-term when communicating about climate change? As a first step, get the right internal team together, then be bold about both the company’s role and objectives. By working collaboratively, specialist climate teams and communicators can set and share an inspiring vision for a sustainable future. 


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Key Contacts

Mark Hutcheon

Mark Hutcheon


Mark Hutcheon is a specialist in reputation management and corporate affairs. For over 20 years, he has advised and worked for major brands helping them protect and grow reputation. Mark helps clients understand their reputation through data, put governance and strategy behind it, detect reputation risk and grow reputation to unlock competitive advantage. He helps CEOs and corporate affairs leaders put reputation at the heart of their decision-making and provides support and counsel in times of opportunity and challenge. In leadership roles for both a global technology and leading sports brand he set the communications agenda, protected reputations in times of distress and created strategies that built trust and value in the business. Previously he was a partner in a reputation management consultancy.

Ben Richards

Ben Richards


Ben has over fifteen years’ experience in corporate purpose and sustainability and has worked with many organisations to give them the confidence and capability to create change on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. He has worked with some the world’s largest public and privately owned companies, as well as public sector and third sector clients. He coordinates Deloitte’s global TCFD community, a network that shares and develops best-practices on climate risk and strategy disclosures, and was lead author on our climate scenarios paper with the UK Met Office. He runs regular board and business training for clients on sustainability-related governance, risk, and reporting requirements. Ben frequently co-authors publications and speaks at events on emerging ESG risks including climate change, decarbonisation, biodiversity and digital ethics.