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Right now feels like a breakthrough moment for acting, and communicating, on climate change. The world is sitting up and listening. Organisations have a mandate to take action and an opportunity to help rewrite the future in the face of a changing climate.
In the last twelve months, we’ve seen a rapid acceleration of commitments on climate change, with more brands promising to reach net-zero carbon and an increased understanding about the need for climate risks and opportunities to be managed strategically.
Why now is the time for action
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 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 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 becomes mission critical.
How to get the 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 stories carry even more news value as they become 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 climate stories firmly in the context of the big conversations in the news for greater relevance and to win attention from policymakers.
5. Tell stories. With a strategic direction set, 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 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 sharing information on climate change, 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. So asked where is climate change 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. Plan for it to be a permanent, core pillar of your communications activity.
So, what do we advise 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.
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 has over 15 years’ experience in strategic sustainable business, gained from roles in FTSE100 organisations, agencies, and startups. Since joining Deloitte in early 2019, Ben has focused on helping clients from across industry deliver diverse sustainability projects and respond to emerging risks such as digital responsibility, inequality and industry 4.0. In previous roles, Ben published research on purposeful business, investor demand for ESG information, and global sustainability reporting.