Posted: 09 Dec. 2020 3 min. read

Sustainability communication for a changing climate

Right now feels like a breakthrough moment for climate change. The world is sitting up and listening but organisations must deploy effective sustainability communication if their action is to be recognised. With the right sustainability communication strategy in place, businesses can rewrite the future in the face of a changing climate.

In the last twelve months, we’ve seen a rapid acceleration in the volume of climate communication, with more brands promising to reach net-zero carbon and an increased understanding of the need for climate risks and opportunities to be managed strategically.

Acting on your climate communications

We need to act now as the science tells us that we have a decade to halve our emissions. Action on climate change is more than just the right thing to do; it is increasingly a driver of perception and loyalty, and one day soon might be the primary lens through which we judge organisations.

Why? Because your stakeholders are emotionally invested in tackling climate change.

Employees use climate as a barometer of your commitment to being a responsible business, and 43% of consumers claim to be actively choosing brands based on their environmental values. Specialist stakeholders are stepping up their demands too.

Regulators and governments expect to see organisations take committed action on climate change. The UK announced its intention to make the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) mandatory across the economy by 2025. Action is expected from financial investors in return for their capital as approximately 10% of shares traded today are ESG related.

To satisfy this thirst for information, and seize the opportunity to strengthen your reputation, communications become mission-critical.

How to get sustainability communications right

We set out some of the key considerations that we typically challenge our clients to think about when setting a sustainability communications strategy.

1.  Anchor in your purpose. Root it in the core purpose of the business and if necessary, reimagine your purpose and what it means through the prism of climate change.

2.  Talk about business change. Our experience is that when your sustainability and business strategy are aligned, it gives your communications a winning platform. Your climate communication carries even more news value as it becomes about your business’s big moves in innovation and product development, enabling you to connect environmental impacts to human impacts.

3.  Mobilise the executive team. Catalyse your executive leadership around a bold and ambitious plan backed by a set of real commitments. Decide if you will lead or follow; anticipate that your employees will want to see the leadership team act and communicate how every employee can play their part.

4.  Find the big conversations. Whether it is the hot topic of electric cars or on-site renewables, place your sustainability communication firmly in the context of the big conversations for greater relevance and to win attention from policymakers.

5.  Tell stories. With a clear sustainability communication strategy in place, inspire people through telling stories and use your brand’s proximity with consumers to encourage behaviour change.

6.   Measure your performance. Connect your actions to a recognised measurement framework so you are disclosing comparable and consistent information on your climate journey. With the arrival of TCFD, climate reporting has moved from a ‘theoretical concept’ towards realised impacts with robust data.

How sustainability and communication teams can be a catalyst for change

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

Both sustainability and communications teams are naturally good at spotting changes in public attitudes, telling stories, motivating audiences to buy-in to change, and setting out a vision for the future. When we apply these skills to climate change and sustainability, it can make the world stand up and take notice of your business. 

Five shifts to shape your future plan

1.   Broadcast to targeted: While broadcast works for bigger ideas, increasingly sophisticated stakeholders expect targeted information and the opportunity to ask difficult questions and get answers.

2.    Backward to forward-looking: While change starts today you should be prepared to share your vision and roadmap over the next ten to twenty years, and frame your customers’ choices in a way that motivates them to make climate-smart decisions.

3.   Information to action: Brands are great at crafting and sharing their climate communication, yet not-so-great at telling us what they need us to do about it. Broad brushstrokes are not enough, so crystallise your call to action.

4.   Margin to mainstream: Where once it was a fringe issue for activists, climate change is a mainstream corporate and consumer issue. Ask where climate change is in your corporate narrative.

5.    Tactical to permanent: Communications teams need to get ready now for a decade-long journey on climate change. It cannot be this month’s trendy topic for a news release. Your sustainability communication strategy needs to be an ongoing, core business process.

So, what do we advise for organisations thinking about communicating about climate change?

As a first step, get the right internal team together, then be bold about both your role and objectives. By working in close harmony, specialist climate teams and communicators can set and share an inspiring vision for a sustainable future.

An overview of Deloitte’s climate change commitment and strategy can be viewed here.

Sign up for the latest updates

Key contacts

Mark Hutcheon

Mark Hutcheon

Director

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

Director

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.