There has been an increasing focus on ‘net-zero’ in the past few months, so from a communications perspective, it is difficult to differentiate your net-zero journey from everyone else’s. As more companies embark on their climate action journey, the challenge many face is whether to talk about it and how and when to meaningfully engage with stakeholders.
I recently had the pleasure to interview Robyn Sefiani, CEO & Reputation Counsel of Sefiani for the second episode of my “Driving Net Profit with Zero Emissions” show, see video below. This blog post summarises our major discussion points.
Communicating your climate action efforts is important
In the past, there was no social media to connect and inform people, and importantly to galvanise action. A large proportion of the population was not engaged. Today, people are better informed and are demanding action.
Investors are also putting companies under increased scrutiny to disclose their climate risks and responses, for example through the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and the CDP.
The power of consumers and shareholders is pushing organisations to a more responsible position, including towards the need to reach net-zero emissions. Companies cannot afford to sit on the sidelines, which could result in damaged reputation, risk to operations, missed market opportunities, boycotts and a weaker talent pool.
However, many companies are announcing net-zero targets without a plan. They announce a timebound ambition to be net-zero without a roadmap, interim milestones or any clarity on how net-zero will be achieved and communicated to their stakeholders. Some companies are also reticent to communicate proactively, perhaps because they’ve been criticised in the past.
Saying nothing is no longer acceptable.
Changing consumerism and social licence to operate
According to a CapGemini study from 2020, 79% of consumers are willing to change their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness and environmental impact.
Taking this a step further, a study by Insites Consulting showed that 25% of Australians had boycotted a brand for sustainability reasons, compared to 14% just over twelve months ago. This behaviour is skewed towards younger generations, with 41% of Millennials reporting boycotting behaviour compared to just 6% of Baby Boomers.
Nowadays, people are genuinely looking at actions versus promises on sustainability and climate. People are watching to see if companies are doing what they said they would do. There are also plenty of activist groups with far-reaching influence that will call companies out when they fall short of their promises.
At the same time, people are also looking to support companies or brands that are doing the right thing. There is a huge opportunity for companies that are progressing with their net zero plans to meaningfully engage their audiences and galvanise support for their sustainability journey.
No room for greenwashing
Audiences today are too savvy to be fooled by greenwashing. Companies are facing intense scrutiny for taking shortcuts or failing to communicate with honesty, integrity and authenticity.
Brookfield Asset Management’s Mark Carney, a key climate finance leader and vice-chair at Brookfield, ‘walked back’ his remarks after claiming pollution had been neutralised across its portfolio. This is a company with an enormous renewables business, but it remains active in fossil fuels. The position of the company was that the renewables business compensated for the company’s other activities, but the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) does not count avoided emissions in its framework, which means the firm can’t use avoided emissions to meet net-zero claims without addressing its other operations.
In another example reported by Bloomberg, Rio Tinto, announced a 15% target reduction in operational emissions by 2030, which it claimed aligned with a 1.5° C pathway. However, climate activist group, Market Forces, disagreed with their calculations and said that alignment would require a 50% reduction in emissions over the same timeframe. Rio Tinto has now agreed to be more transparent with its targets and performance and will disclose short, medium and long-term targets for greenhouse gas emissions in its own operations.
One final example, was BMO, a Canadian Bank, that came under fire for its net-zero pledge, which was dismissed as “unambitious”. Adam Scott, director of Shift Action for Pension Wealth & Planet Health found that “a bank that is claiming climate leadership while financing fossil fuel pipelines is either greenwashing or doesn’t understand the urgent action the climate crisis necessitates.”
For many companies, aligning to the Paris Agreement requires learnings, risks and operating in new ways, and not everyone is going to get it right. Instead of misleading stakeholders, acknowledging a failure can help a brand to build social capital. This was the case for Charity Water, a non-profit organisation that disclosed that one of its water drilling projects had failed after one year. The head of Charity Water openly communicated the failed project, and came back with an action plan. When the team returned to drill a few months later, many more people had become invested in the story and were willing them on to succeed.
Best practice in communicating your climate action
As companies step up and transition to net zero, the question for many is what, when, where and how to communicate their journey.
With the rapid increase in public focus on transparency in corporate communications over the past five years, it is important to take a considered and strategic approach to communications across all stakeholder groups.
Our top 7 tips for companies to consider when communicating their net zero journey are:
- Regularly communicate proof of action: Frequent and consistent communication allows companies to build a voice on climate action and ultimately, that will help to build a bank of social capital.
- Differentiate yourself: Consider what your journey means for your company and your stakeholders, and how this is different from your competitors. As with any example of communications, no company will achieve cut-through if they cannot differentiate themselves.
- Be true to your brand: Demonstrate that sustainability is in line with your own brand positioning and not an add-on.
- Know your audiences: Different audiences have different expectations of engagement. A targeted multi-channel communications plan will allow you to engage with your audiences in a meaningful way and work towards establishing trust. Consider how you can empower your stakeholders – employees, shareholders, customers and partners – to take small actions that align with your commitment and come along with the company on its sustainability journey.
- Don’t discount employees: With the rise of ‘glass box’ company culture – a culture of transparency, prizing visibility of the company’s values, decisions and action – companies that have sustainability as part of their internal culture, will see it amplified through their employees.
- Be transparent: If you make a mistake or miss a milestone, take your audiences on your journey. Be honest, be human, and reiterate the goals of the journey.
- Keep it simple and inspiring: Audiences do not want the jargon or the doom and gloom. They want to know that you are taking action, through simple, clear and inspiring communications. A study by Greenbiz showed that videos positively depicting nature’s beauty and innovative climate change solutions were 50 times more effective at driving views than negative messaging or even a combination of positive and negative.
Communication plays a pivotal role in supporting a company’s net zero journey. There is a huge opportunity out there for companies and brands that can strategically use communications to bring their stakeholders on their journey with them.
About Sefiani Communications Group
Sefiani is a leading Australian strategic communications firm that helps companies enhance and protect brands and reputations Through a media relations, social and digital communications and stakeholder engagement, Sefiani solves complex business challenges and seizes opportunities for clients. The firm also works with clients to help them manage and share their sustainability journey in a way that is meaningful to their stakeholders, mitigates issues and builds brand reputation.
If you want to get in touch with Sefiani, please visit the following:
- Sefiani’s website – https://www.sefiani.com.au/
- Sefiani’s email or social media – https://www.sefiani.com.au/contact-us/
- Robyn Sefiani’s contact details – https://www.sefiani.com.au/our-people/robyn-sefiani/
About 100% Renewables
100% Renewables are experts in helping organisations develop their climate action strategies and accompanying financing plans. If you need help with developing your climate action plan, please contact Barbara or Patrick.
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