How can businesses have nuanced discussions on climate change?
It's a well-worn idiom that the biggest issues facing society today are complex. That's why they're still issues. Almost every problem that you'll see with this label cannot be solved with one measure or policy. Or even two or three.
We know that eradicating single-use plastic and drastically reducing carbon, for example, aren’t going to solve the climate crisis. There are equally pressing issues such as biodiversity and clean water that aren’t currently being given the attention they need and will be vital to achieving a sustainable climate in the long term.
Sadly, however, there is a limit to what can capture the attention of the public and your stakeholders at any one time. And that’s before the fact that many of the platforms where these discussions are happening are simply not designed to have complicated, nuanced discussions.
All of which can leave business leaders in a quandary. Often, you’ll know that your business model is well suited to helping tackle the climate emergency overall but perhaps doesn’t highlight the area that people are currently talking about. In fact, you may even have something to say that runs counter to the current trends; like those who rely on single-use plastics to keep medicine or food safe for consumption.
Should these businesses keep quiet? And is it even possible to have detailed conversations that are necessary to explain their position and create the broader systems change that is needed in a public arena?
In short, the answers to these questions are no and yes.
Keeping quiet is no longer an option; businesses can and must be able to talk about how they are tackling the climate emergency – but the key is to ensure it is done in a way which is both relevant to yourselves and genuinely contributing to the system as a whole.
We’ve learnt that rather than starting communications by considering the things that have been done, communications must start with a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and why. The complexity of systems change means that no organisation can own that ambition entirely, but it will have a critical role to play in partnership with others – and that is what needs to be at the heart of any conversation, regardless of the popular hot topics.
The first people to engage in conversation are those who are most able to help you achieve your aims. This might be employees, investors, or even customers. Understanding who your primary audience is will help to create the message that best resonates with them and encourage them to get involved. This is where showing the links with the wider system can be helpful, showing how your role contributes to the current hot topics to build a compelling rationale. For example, work on increasing biodiversity may need to be linked explicitly to carbon reduction or to food security to get audiences engaged.
By focusing on a narrow audience initially, it’s possible to have a broader, deeper conversation that allows understanding and ultimately support to be built. From here, the audience groups can start to increase as others are invited into the conversation and – if specific actions need to be taken forward – broader movements can be developed.
With issues as complex as climate change, it is simply not possible to talk about everything to everyone all at once. But it is both possible and important to build a clear story of what you are doing to contribute, why it is important and how it sits alongside the actions of other organisations to drive systemic change. The right discussion will be driven by the starting point of ‘why?’.
Beth Gaudin is a senior consultant at Forster CommunicationsB Corp