It’s time to add “climate fluency” to your communications and marketing wheelhouse
Corporate communicators and marketers bear a unique responsibility in serving our companies and clients. At our best, we come to the table as both experts in our evolving crafts and highly informed contributors to, and executors of, corporate strategies. Our work helps navigate change, manage risk, and seize opportunity. That means we not only have to know our stuff, but we must also understand the rapidly changing environment businesses are operating in.
Climate change is the single-greatest long-term trend disrupting our sectors and industries .
In the past two weeks there have been two major announcements in Canada that will have cascading impacts for companies across the economy, and the communications and marketing professionals who support them:
These may sound wonky (they are), and mostly relevant to the day-to-day work of our finance and sustainability colleagues (of course). But developments of this kind have everything to do with how companies and financial institutions communicate and publicly present critical information to their stakeholders. As communicators, that is our raison-d’être.
While communication and marketing professionals aren’t expected to be climate experts, having a fluent understanding of climate issues will help us ask better questions, provide stronger counsel, and help our colleagues navigate the tough work of communicating complicated and nuanced ideas clearly. Doing our job well means helping protect our organizations’ reputations and relationships. Doing it poorly, could land everyone in (increasingly) hot water – pun intended.
That is why we created this series.
The Two Types of Climate Risk Communicators Should Understand
We all know climate change is an existential threat. When our financial and sustainability colleagues talk about climate risk, they are generally referring to two specific categories.
First: physical risks: floods, fires, droughts, and extreme weather that can destroy facilities, impact employee safety, and disrupt service and supply chains. Many businesses are already integrating these into their risk management systems (and if they are not, they may soon be forced to). For communicators, understanding these physical risks is critical to informing your crisis management playbook. If these pages are missing, it might be time to start asking some internal questions.
Second: transition risks: not being ready for the inevitable market and policy changes that will happen as the whole world shifts course to avoid climate disaster. These risks run the gamut from selling a product that consumers no longer want (think: VHS tapes), to being hit with financial penalties— legal challenges, higher operating costs, missed investment opportunities—to reputational damage from being out of step with stakeholders’ expectations and demands. (P.S. it is just as important to account for transition risks in corporate risk management systems. There should be pages in your crisis playbook for these too.)
Greenwashing is the perfect example of a transition risk that started out as primarily reputational (i.e., the stuff that lands on our desks), but is quickly evolving to have significant legal, regulatory, and financial consequences.
In our next dispatch, we get deeper into the definition of greenwashing, the new and equally concerning phenomenon of “greenhushing” and how a Canadian climate investment taxonomy could help us avoid both.
But we wanted to end this introduction with a key piece of advice we’ll probably repeat again and again: we must fundamentally shift the way we think about climate storytelling.
Ending on a Note of Humility
As communicators and marketers, we’re trained to cast our organizations in the best possible light. We want to create a warm glow around our brands, showcase the positive actions being taken, highlight achievements and successes. In general, there’s nothing wrong with that. But as you’ll see in our next post, taking this approach to climate communications may be inappropriate, and extraordinarily risky.
The shifts that must take place in our businesses and across our entire economy to respond to climate change are monumental. It is hard, messy work and even those companies who have been at it a long time are struggling. That’s because, as the window to avoid climate crisis gets smaller, the bar for action is getting higher.
In this context, boasting about our climate actions will likely trigger more suspicion than slaps on the back. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about them (we have to!). But we must do so grounded in a tone of humility.
We invite you to read our next dispatch: Greenwashing, Greenhushing, and the Need for Canadian Taxonomy. And if there are any topics or issues you especially want us to cover, drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org