The 'climate decade' is here, so get ready to align your comms with action

As leaders from business and government gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, climate change will be high on the agenda.

'Greenwashing' is no longer an option, argues Luke Herbert
'Greenwashing' is no longer an option, argues Luke Herbert

In the past 12 months, the conversation around climate has changed. Kids have marched in the streets and politicians used phrases like 'climate emergency', but to do what is required isn't always so clear.

However, Greta Thunberg's advice is clear: "Listen to the science."

Global scientists say carbon emissions must be halved by 2030 to be on the path to avoiding disastrous global warming.

It's tougher than that; we can't just wing it by the deadline – big annual cuts are needed along the way.

As we head further into 2020 – the start of the 'climate decade' – expectations to take more action on climate continue to increase; not just from campaigners and politicians, but also investors, customers, employees and competitors alike.

Comms professionals are often on the front line, but any PR approach is destined to fail if the fundamental business strategy does not address these changing societal demands.

So how can you help your organisation put itself in the right position and help the climate too?

From my experience of working in a climate NGO, an auto manufacturer, in the City and an oil major, here are some observations you can share to guide colleagues along the way.

The climate issue is here to stay.

More fires and other climate disasters will sadly, inevitably, hit the headlines. Leadership from businesses, states, cities, China and technology can have more influence than a US President.

'Greenwashing' is no longer an option.

Boasting about a sustainability report while lobbying against carbon taxes no longer cuts the mustard. Lauding carbon capture to promote fossil fuels, when renewables are already cheaper, is downright dangerous.

Climate change, as an issue, is relatively predictable and easy to plan for.

It's the political weather that is messy. Take Brexit, Trump, trade wars, and climate change – the last one is the odd one out. We've known more about it for decades than all the others.

Don't wait on government policy for a steer. Take the lead now.

As the diesel scandal showed, politicians' expectations always change and business is better at planning for the long term anyway.

Being at the forefront of tackling climate change is now the only viable strategic option.

When the speed and scale of change is so great, any other plan will be quickly out of date and risk being called out. It is far simpler and predictable to aim to take carbon out of your organisation's operations as fast as possible. Any other approach is damage limitation or delaying the inevitable.

So, what next steps do you take once you've helped your business through that journey?

The good news is that hundreds of large organisations are already taking ambitious steps that are gifts to communicators, whether it be committing to 100 per cent renewable electricity, turning whole vehicle fleets electric by 2030 or making their facilities energy-smart.

A large number have aligned their whole business strategy with climate science.

Never has the path on climate been clearer, and the options for ambitious action to match the words so numerous. The 'climate decade' is here. Be ready.

Luke Herbert is director of communications The Climate Group

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