Are corporate comms directors the key to making firms live up to their environmental promises?

Hundreds of Amazon workers defied the online retail giant this month by publicly blasting it for taking insufficient action on the climate crisis.

If comms directors are given a seat at the top table they can help hold their companies to account on the environment, argues Adam Barber
If comms directors are given a seat at the top table they can help hold their companies to account on the environment, argues Adam Barber

This criticism comes despite the retailer’s commitment to sourcing 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030 and to net zero emissions by 2040.

The message from the protestors is clear. 

They can hear their employer say the right things. They can see the long-term plan. But they don’t think it is enough. 

The hundreds of workers in these protests are only a small fraction of Amazon’s 750,000 employees worldwide, but it still shows that being open about tackling the climate crisis is key for firms in the 2020s.

For communications directors, this represents both a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is that words will not be enough. 

PR professionals are adept at showing their company in the best light, but these stories and campaigns will come under greater scrutiny from a wide range of groups keen to make sure that companies are being honest about their environmental credentials. 

And this isn’t just green-minded employees. 

In recent months, it has become clear that hedge fund short sellers and eco-activists are set to form an unlikely alliance when it comes to holding firms to account for their environmental, social and corporate governance performance. 

Protestors have always had an eagle eye for corporate hypocrisy but, increasingly, short sellers are too as they look to ‘short’ businesses that they believe are using promises that amount to green-washing to inflate their share prices.

Companies will have fewer places to hide. 

These unofficial watchdogs also have access to online channels that let them spread their findings far and wide. 

And the public will be less forgiving than ever. We all now know people who avoid flying for climate reasons, right?

But the opportunity for communications directors is clear, too. 

It will be their job to make sure their management teams understand these trends, and how communications relies on more than just gloss. 

The companies that succeed in the 2020s will be those that put environmental sustainability goals and the climate crisis at the heart of what they do. 

They will walk the talk.

This is why the communications director needs a seat at the management table. 

They see what people are saying on social media, and what is at risk for the firms that ignore these concerns. 

The communications director can protect the brand and hold others to account. 

Merely sending out the green messages and greenwash of yesteryear no longer cuts it. 

We all saw the letter from BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink that dominated business pages this month. 

In this letter, he warned that the climate crisis would reshape the financial sector and committed to put it at the heart of the $6.5 trillion asset manager’s investment strategy.

Shareholders, employees, investors, customers and activists: everyone will demand more evidence that companies’ actions match their nice words and pretty pictures. 

For those that don’t, this is a PR and financial disaster waiting to happen.

Adam Barber is group managing director at Tamarindo Communications

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