Climate change and business have been married in the news lately.
For example, last month’s “Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change to the United States,” a report issued by a group of prominent business leaders including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, detailed how climate change is affecting businesses and offers a close look at how a world altered by climate change will impact businesses and gross domestic product. The report’s authors call on the American business community to “rise to the challenge and lead the way in helping reduce climate risks.”
According to an interview Secretary Paulson gave with PBS’s Judy Woodruff, businesses need to “work on policies that will help us avoid these really adverse risks. So, when … they say, well, we don’t—why should we do something so dramatically? We want more facts. And I’m saying that’s radical risk-taking, taking this cautious approach, because if you wait until you have all the facts, it will be too late.” Many businesses have already heeded the call and are rising to the challenge by incorporating clean energy programs and initiatives, partnering with local governments and organizations, putting a “clean green” spin on products or services and communicating their efforts to an ever more receptive media and general public.
Taking Internal Initiatives a Step Further
Just last month, LVMH teamed up with the European Commission to promote its best environmental practices in the framework of Green Week 2014, the biggest annual conference on European environment policy. Since 2011, LVMH has been launching its own internal Green Week in parallel with the one organized by the commission, with the aim of sharing best practices and experiences on circular economy with its employees worldwide.
And this year, the company announced “LIFE—LVMH Indicators for the Environment” to all LVMH employees, focusing on the preservation and valorization of resources and recycling, which are key drivers of environmental performance. Each of the initiatives garnered a range of favorable press for the luxury goods company, including from Bloomberg, WWD, Luxury Daily and Fashion World, putting the “cool” and fashionable in being green. The partnering of a designer and a green-themed week, though unusual, isn’t the only pairing to promote climate change endeavors.
Many cities and businesses are already partnering. Both entities realize the need to work together to create solutions to address and adapt to climate change. According to a recent survey from the Carbon Disclosure Project that received worldwide media attention, cities from Sao Paulo to Hong Kong say climate change threatens their economies, and most are taking measures to protect their city’s businesses.
About 76 percent of 207 cities surveyed by the nonprofit group said that extreme weather and other effects of climate change put the stability of their local economies at risk, the CDP said. Threats include damage to transport, infrastructure and property, and the risk to human health, the study said.
“Local governments are storming ahead to protect their citizens and businesses from the impacts of climate change, but further collaboration with business is needed to increase city resilience,” said Larissa Bulla, head of CDP’s cities program, in a Bloomberg article.
Local officials in Wuhan, China, which sits on the badly polluted Yangtze River, have been looking for ways to change the city’s bad air reputation. Last month, it was announced that Chetwoods, a UK-based architecture firm, has been working with the city to cover Wuhan’s new 3,280-foot-tall Phoenix Tower with a smog-eating coating. Chinese Daily, Yahoo! News, Take Part and Discover magazine were among the many media outlets covering this unusual collaboration.
Another unique alliance, announced this month, that is helping map natural gas leaks in Boston, Indianapolis and Staten Island occurred when Google paired up with the Environmental Defense Fund and Colorado State University to create a car equipped with methane sensors to detect and map leaks from natural gas pipelines that run under city streets. Myriad media reported on this endeavor, including CNBC, Scientific America, ABC 7 News Denver and Boston.com.
Ingeniously Innovating to Create Buzz
And while the sensor car might have caused a buzz, Harley-Davidson last month sent shock waves far beyond the motorcycle world when it introduced its new Live Wire electric motorcycle. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times “the debut marks a dramatic departure for the 110-year-old motorcycle company, which is hailed or hated for its powerful engines, loud exhaust pipes and brash rebel attitude.” The article went on to point out that the new electric bike “should appeal to younger riders of both genders, who tend to be more sensitive to environmental matters.”
Harley’s bike puts an element of cool behind “cutting emissions.” The announcement of Live Wire was covered not only in industry trade outlets, but also included hip technology sites like Tech Times and Mashable, business sites such as Motley Fool and Yahoo! Finance, mainstream news like the L.A. Times and CBS News, and trendy sites such as the Verge and Cool Material.
Speaking of putting a new spin on an iconic product, some of London’s famous black cabs will go electric in 2015 as Nissan unveiled its new NV200 black cab model, complete with an electric engine, earlier this year. The move was hailed by the media, with a storm of coverage including Responding to Climate Change, The Wall Street Journal, Car and Driver, Gizmodo and BBC Top Gear.
Getting Real and Getting Coverage
Brands like Nissan and other companies—as well as governments—are starting to see the validity of initiating efforts to address climate change and communicating these efforts. And for good reason! The general public is increasingly realizing that climate change is real and rewarding companies that are taking steps to address the problem.
According to the most recent survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, conducted in April 2014, by more than a three-to-one margin, more Americans think global warming is happening than think it is not. Further, these sentiments translate to smart business. According to a survey released last month, Nielsen polled 30,000 consumers in 60 countries and found that more than half, 55 percent, said they were willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to making a positive impact on society and the environment.
And the media is being more positive. According to a study released earlier this year by the Daily Climate, reporting on climate change by world media rose 30 percent in 2013 above 2012 levels. For example, according to the Daily Climate’s research, 2013 versus 2012 saw the following increase in climate change coverage: “Bloomberg News was up 133 percent, the Globe and Mail doubled its reporting, USA Today boosted its effort 48 percent and stories in The Wall Street Journal, Sydney Morning Herald and the Financial Post each were up 40 percent.”
Communicating Climate Creatively and Correctly
With a spike in coverage by the media, the realization that climate change is happening now, and an increasing emphasis by companies and local governments to begin addressing the issue, one of the most important things for businesses to do is to start informing the general public about their efforts. Creating buzz about internal and external programs provides an opportunity for entities to build momentum. And, as evidenced above, it helps the bottom line. But how do businesses generate positive buzz effectively?
In a recent post in The Guardian, Adam Corner, a researcher and writer whose work focuses on the psychology of communicating climate change, said: “For individuals and organisations communicating climate change, it is easy to forget that most people don’t live their lives in a series of dislocated behaviours that can be influenced or nudged in a more sustainable direction.
Ask yourself: What are the things that make you laugh, inspire you, or fill your conversations with friends? For most of us, the answer will involve culture, not cognition.” Corner is right in identifying the need for to be creative—and smart—in order to be successful in capturing the attention of the general public. After all, that’s what LVMH, Harley, Nissan, Chetwoods and Google did, and even when the message might appear to be complicated, there are ways to make it resonate.
One of the key successes of the recent United Nations IPCC’s AR-5 report has been to explicitly frame the issue as a risk-management and challenge—a topic that business, in particular, can relate to—with the level of risk controlled by three variables: the climate trend, the degree of exposure to the risk and the vulnerability of populations impacted. Progress to reduce emissions, while critical, is not the whole solution, as warming is already built into the system— so we need to make investments that reduce these risks and help build healthier, more vibrant and robust communities.
As a result of framing the issue with a business perspective, the recent IPCC report releases have received unprecedented and resounding coverage and attention in the business press worldwide, including special business features and articles in The Guardian in the United Kingdom, Forbes in the U.S. and Mexico, Exame in Brazil and The Australian Business with The Wall Street Journal.
As co-chairs of the IPCC Working Group II report, Stanford University Professor Chris Field and Vicente Barros, emeritus professor of climatology, University of Buenos Aires, wrote in a recent editorial: “Climate change creates real and pervasive risks. If we are smart and ambitious, addressing those risks can also create real opportunities.” Indeed, it’s vital for businesses to start seizing these opportunities by initiating, innovating, partnering and communicating the steps they are taking toward meaningful action. Doing so will hopefully spur their peers to do the same and engage the public to take action now.
Five Tips for Business to Spur Successful Climate Change Communications:
1. Establish innovative company-wide initiatives, then support and integrate them with local or regional climate programs
2. Partner with local municipalities, other companies or nonprofits on programs that support action
3. Launch or reintroduce product(s) that help the environment
4. Follow—or lead in different ways—from your competitors’ examples
5. Communicate efforts under an umbrella theme that supports CSR
Pete Bowyer is the global director and EMEA lead, and John Casey is director of the Americas for the Havas Worldwide Climate Practice.