How to Acknowledge Earth Day in a Climate Emergency

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By Mike Lock

Earth Day is a key milestone for organizations to demonstrate progress in mitigating the impact of a changing climate and promoting environmental solutions that safeguard people and the planet. Against the backdrop of a war in Ukraine — with tangible implications on net-zero energy transition — and alarming reports that the window to curb the most harmful consequences of global warming is closing fast, it will be important for companies to effectively calibrate the content and sentiment they share to mark the day.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a livable future.” Hoesung Lee, Chair, United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 4 April 2022

In preparation for Earth Day on April 22, 2022, here are five important considerations for companies:

Acknowledge the urgency, complexity and anxiety of this moment.

We are two years into a critical decade to accelerate climate change solutions ahead of the sustainable development goal (SDG) 13 imperative to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by 2030, including a target to integrate climate change measures into policies, strategies and planning. Yet the world is off track on the SDG’s overall, including climate targets. Further, the global COVID-19 pandemic has diverted attention and resources from climate change action as governments and organizations pivoted to address the public health crisis and resulting economic impacts. Conflicts such as a civil war in Yemen and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are further complicating the sustainable development agenda. It is important to ensure Earth Day messages are sensitive to this current reality and appropriate in tone and sentiment.

Demonstrate how your organization supports collective goals and frameworks through action.

Addressing the impacts of climate change will require global collaboration and collective action — and each organization has a role to play. Further, stakeholders are increasingly concerned with seeing tangible action towards global goals and commitments. Earth Day is a moment to reassert long-term commitments, such as how your organization is engaging in the global dialogue and supporting common efforts such as the UN Global Compact. But more importantly, Earth Day is an important milestone to mark your organization’s progress and roadmap towards those actionable, long-term commitments. It is no longer enough to state a climate ambition. The urgency of the challenge requires proof of action.

Focus on tangible impact — specifically to demonstrate incremental progress.

Many organizations have now set net-zero, carbon-neutral or other science-based targets to curtail greenhouse gas emissions across their operations and supply chains. As many of these goals have longer time horizons, stakeholders are scrutinizing these plans and looking to see how organizations are making progress today. It is not enough to confirm your organization is on track against mid-century goals. Stakeholders want to understand what impact your actions have achieved to date and how that impact contributes to collective progress. To help demonstrate transparency, communicators should strive to hold up data, examples, case studies or anecdotes — even if small. The goal here is to illustrate your progress and learnings so far — including how they will fuel action tomorrow.

Be conscious of the importance of funding, expertise and advocacy for climate solutions being applied justly.

Leaders agreed at COP26 to urgently increase the timing and scope of climate financing for lower-income countries that represent a fraction of total global greenhouse gas emissions but bear an outsized brunt of the impacts from climate change. With greater global attention on this stark divide, communicators and leaders should ensure they evaluate their environmental initiatives through this inclusive ‘environmental justice’ lens to ensure they acknowledge the historic and greater burden that the world’s most fragile states continue to face from climate change.

Carefully consider how language and visual assets will support — or undermine — your intended message.

At this time, the most appropriate tone for Earth Day communications is one of humility. Given the complexity of the sustainable development agenda as we emerge from a global pandemic and face unprecedented geopolitical challenges, Earth Day will likely not be seen by many as a moment to celebrate in the face of so much difficulty. Further, we can anticipate climate advocates will be scrutinizing public statements by leaders and organizations and will be quick to call out those they deem insincere, frivolous, too celebratory or otherwise inconsistent with the mood of the moment. Communicators should consider a measured tone to mark achievements and stress that there is still more important and difficult work to be done to truly achieve our collective climate goals.

This article reflects current guidance from our specialists in social impact, sustainability and reputation management.

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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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