COP27: Net Zero’s Greenwashing Reckoning and Communications Implications

While many hoped this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) would catalyze global momentum towards addressing the increasingly dire predictions of our warming climate, the outcome was once again flawed yet consequential for our world and our organizations — with clear implications for corporate communicators.

By Mike Lock

“While there are many great examples of companies working to transform how they do business, in reality, too many of these climate pledges represent little more than empty slogans and hype. We need these commitments to translate into real action.” Catherine McKenna, Chair, UN Secretary-General’s High-level Expert Group on Net-Zero Commitments

Align climate policies and actions across the organization

When making a net-zero commitment, all facets of the business and actions must be aligned to this vision. With the proliferation of climate commitments, more third-parties are analyzing lobbying disclosures, travel practices, shareholder presentations and more to understand if a company is truly embracing and living by its climate ambition or just touting a slogan. Communicators can play a critical role in facilitating internal conversations and cross-functional working groups that represent all organizational functions — including internal communications, public affairs, investor relations and more — to ensure alignment or identify areas of the business that need to be addressed.

Share a long-term vision with short-term accountability

The climate crisis will not be solved overnight. Only through continued commitment and cooperation will the international community be able to make meaningful progress to design, implement and scale viable climate solutions. Many businesses have touted bold environmental commitments with a horizon of 2040 and beyond, but with no clear actionable plan as to how these goals will be accomplished. While visionary campaigns and platforms can signal a brand’s intent and ambition to address environmental impacts, today’s consumers, employees and investors want to understand and see evidence of how companies are taking concrete steps today to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Calibrate climate communications to focus on these tangible examples and the results or lessons learned to demonstrate how your business is committed to acting on climate change now and over the long-term.

Embrace transparency and promote understanding of your organization’s environmental footprint

A company’s sustainability journey will generate stories to communicate around successes, failures and lessons learned. If your organization is committed to a net-zero ambition, your communications strategy must be built around an ethos of transparency. The latest report from the UN high-level expert group implores non-state actors to look beyond carbon offset schemes and prioritize urgent and deep reduction of emissions across their value chains. Instead of focusing on offsets or painting an optimistic picture, build your climate communications around your true environmental footprint that accounts for the real impact of your operations and supply chain.

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Mike specializes in providing communication counsel to clients and teams around CSR, ESG considerations, sustainability, and brand purpose communications.

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