ITL #463 Climate change: new IPRA Chapter enables much needed exchange and global cooperation10 months, 3 weeks ago
Communication and effective stakeholder engagement are the key drivers to support true transformation and help achieve the UN 1.5°C target. This takes the whole PR profession. By Daniel Silberhorn.
“If You Can Dream It, Then You Can Do It” – a quote attributed to Walt Disney, which also inspired Andreas Wade to call himself a Sustainability Imagineer. The sustainability officer helped co-create Germany-based manufacturer Viessmann’s Net Zero Strategy ‘LEAP to Net Zero’. The acronym stands for “Lead by Example, Empower people to act, Advocate to foster a movement, Partner to scale impact” – key aspects for successful Net Zero implementations that illustrate a wider range of tasks communications should play around climate change.
Climate action is needed and demanded
The need for positive climate actions at a systems-level, with finance, government, and business as key players, has by now become a globally accepted and scientifically supported consensus. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the August 2021 IPCC report was "a code red for humanity”. Indeed, the years 2013 to 2021 all rank among the ten warmest years on record. The effects were felt around the world: torrential rains in Malaysia, the most severe drought in Turkey in a decade, 10 million people without power after a winter storm in the US, huge sandstorms in China, wildfires around the Mediterranean, or catastrophic floods in Germany.
And the demand for action by stakeholders and especially investors is growing, with Blackrock CEO Larry Fink pointing out in 2020 that climate risk is investment risk. Indeed, companies are responding: by now, more than 2,000 companies worldwide have set emissions reductions targets through the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). At SLR, we have also experienced a shift in demand from reporting to how to actually implement strategies. It’s about transformation, and this is where stakeholder engagement and communications come into play, including strategic partnerships for change. Change leadership is the new thought leadership.
Huge need for impactful communications
The need for impactful communications is huge. However, we still do see weaknesses, for example in what and in how companies communicate in the area of climate change.
Regarding the ‘How’: often, functional leadership is missing out on opportunities to actually involve stakeholders in decision-making, which would support reputation and help ensure buy-in and cooperation if people feel their voices have been heard. At the same time, decisions might actually be better. On the other hand, actually implementing the sustainability mission and values within the organization takes stakeholder engagement and communications effort. To date, plans for developing a net zero strategy often still just mention stakeholder engagement as a side note even though it’s a critical aspect to get buy-in and turn plans into reality beyond the paper.
The ‘What’ includes, among other topics, a veritable sustainability communication classic: with corporates eager to tell a positive story, there’s always the danger of appearing to greenwash. We have seen a shift in how the public looks at Net zero announcements from Microsoft’s much-appreciated carbon negative commitment by 2030 back in 2020 to stakeholders scrutinizing how Net Zero is actually achieved today. Specifically, the practice of compensating is being looked at critically. Especially as there have been examples in the past where compensation was calculated based on forest areas that were protected already anyway, adding nothing to the global carbon reduction.
More importantly, there is still an opportunity to move away even more from overwhelming apocalyptic communication which is not likely to initiate action. If communications are to inspire action, it needs to convey a story, laying out a journey for people to come along, empowering the recipients and provide authentic, value-based directions into a more sustainable future. Also, communication needs to be concrete and relatable for the audiences. For example, what does the global 1.5°C goal mean for a specific country? While average temperature has risen by 1.1°C since 1881, Germany saw an increase by a full 1.6°C, making events such as flooding more likely.
IPRA launches Climate Change Chapter
These are just some examples to illustrate: there is still room for improvement to develop and implement impactful climate change communications that increase awareness of the topic and enable transformation within businesses and society alike – on a global scale. In line with our mission, we at IPRA, have therefore just launched a new thematic chapter, to support the UN sustainable development goal 13, Climate Action: The IPRA Climate Change Chapter. This initiative builds on our long tradition of connection with the United Nations, as both an NGO with consultative status at the UN’s ECOSOC and an accredited organisation to the UN’s Environment Programme.
As part of that initiative, we will introduce in 2022 a new Golden World Awards category “Climate Change” for the best campaigns addressing issues relevant to or increasing awareness of global climate change. Open for all IPRA members, we will share knowledge and best practice, learning from each other and strengthening our personal impacts as communicators in the crucial area of climate change. And we will enable regular exchange, in person during events and in video calls to present cases and discuss trends. This will help to strengthen our members and therefor our profession’s ability to use the power of communications for the number one global issue of our time.
In the face of the global challenge, we do need to work together, to collaborate, to share best practice, learn from each other and to inspire. Communicators play a critical role here. We do need powerful, empowering, and inspiring stakeholder engagement and communications that bring people and their views together to co-create the change all of us want to see. Like ‘LEAP to Net Zero’ by Viessmann, Marks & Spencer’s ‘Plan A’ (”Because there is no Plan B”) or IKEA’s ‘People & Planet Positive’ strategies. For a liveable future and planet on which we can thrive.
It’s still possible to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This is the good news: we can do it. So let’s get cracking. Join us.
Daniel Silberhorn is Senior Advisor ESG & Sustainability Transformation, SLR Consulting and Chair of the IPRA Climate Change Chapter.mail the author
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