Opinion

Can engagement, creativity and compliance co-exist?

In July, mandatory climate reporting requirements will come into effect in Australia, forcing businesses to disclose their contribution to long-term climate change and the risks it poses to their operations. Lucy Curtin, practice lead - impact communications at South Pole Australia, outlines what this means for the media and marketing industry.

We all need to work together if we’re going to solve the climate crisis, so let’s look at how these unlikely pals might end up the best of friends.

I’ve always loved the power of a good story, to be able to ‘spin a yarn’, to sharpen my comic timing skills and hit that punch line perfectly, to tell something that’s true, that above all engages an audience. It’s always been something I not only enjoy in my life outside work but is also a big reason why I love my job as a climate communicator.

Earlier in the year I spent time at the Sustainability Leaders’ Summit, and more recently at some events during Climate Active Week in Sydney. As anticipated, one of the hot button topics was that of mandatory climate disclosure. New rules are being finalised that will see thousands of Aussie companies required to disclose their climate impact, risks and strategy as part of their financial reporting as soon as FY2025. While listening to the speakers at the summit, I couldn’t help but think – will businesses just do the bare minimum to comply? Or will this be the catalyst toward something more creative and aspirational? Where might we see some start to take some big swings – set credible but ambitious targets and have a go at reaching them? I very much hope it’s the latter.

Mandatory climate disclosure is a huge step in the right direction, as Government regulation certainly helps in getting a large group of people to ‘do the thing’ so to speak.

So, what can we do as communications professionals to ensure our organisations don’t just stop at compliance? How can we inject some engagement and creativity to inspire the action needed?

It’s time to get ready!

If you haven’t got a sustainability strategy yet or it’s something that your business or brand doesn’t feel like it needs to do… then the train has pretty much left the station on that one, as these new rules are mandatory for companies that meet the criteria.

Whether it’s early days on your sustainability journey and compliance is the goal, or you are already aiming to be a leader, making sure you have the foundational building blocks is key. This means conducting a risk assessment that can help you understand potential impacts and costs to your business from climate change. It also means ensuring you have up to date data on your greenhouse gas footprint, including your operations and your value chain, and that you are starting to set targets to reduce emissions in line with the latest climate science. It should go without saying that you will also need a plan for how to reduce emissions and achieve the targets you’ve set.

Bundle all this together in a Climate Transition Plan, and this becomes the blueprint to ensure your organisation not only complies with the rules but achieves real business transformation and is prepared for the impacts of a significantly warmer world.

Spin a good yarn… but make sure it’s not just a fairy tale.

We have seen so many examples lately of brands and organisations telling us via their ads, PR and products that they are going to reach net zero by 2030, or they are ‘carbon neutral’. While they may be well-intentioned, many don’t have any idea how to reach their target or how to ensure the actions they take are meaningful.

More and more we are seeing that these stories are just… well… stories and that’s not only disappointing but it’s dangerous. We only have to pop ‘greenwashing’ into Google to see that businesses and brands from all around the world are being called out for this. Misleading your consumers (intentionally or not) on climate action is not a great look and it certainly doesn’t help with building brand love or employee engagement.

But the flip side is just as concerning. ‘Greenhushing’ is which is basically when you choose to keep quiet about your climate action out of fear or scrutiny. In South Pole’s most recent Destination Zero Report we found that unfortunately, green hushing is the ‘new normal’ – 44% of surveyed companies say external communication on climate targets has become more difficult in just the past year, while 58% are decreasing their communications as a result. On the other hand, 93% see the communication of their net zero strategy as key to commercial success. So, the desire to communicate is there, but sometimes the fear of saying the wrong thing takes over.

Bottom line – it’s important to communicate with integrity and communicate what is true, even if you’ve fallen short of what you hoped to achieve. This applies to the mandatory reporting itself and should also carry through to your marketing campaigns, too.

Engage your people on your journey.

Once you have nailed your strategy and you know the story you can tell your audience, it’s time to start telling it.

When it comes to communicating effectively and moving a group of people toward said goal, there is nothing more engaging than being a part of the story. The best brands and businesses involve their people – their employees, customers, suppliers and investors – in the change and give everyone a role to play.

These businesses also build purpose into their brand from the get-go. It’s built into the business strategy, and they engage the whole team. When it comes to creativity… any marketing pro knows, audience, audience, audience. Understanding who you are talking to and developing products or content that is meaningful to them is the best way to engage and get them to understand just how big these challenges are. The best brands know deeply who they are talking to and communicate with transparency and integrity on the matters they can influence and control.

The decarbonisation of sectors calls for big transformational changes and companies must accept that in many instances a perfect decision is not possible. But by taking on the risks and working together to make the best of incomplete data, companies can rapidly improve the pace of the transition.

So, if it’s a simple report that discloses where you’re at, or something bigger like a campaign that starts a movement within your organisation to create big change, all we really need to do is start.

Start and push the companies we work for and with to do the same. Through engagement we inspire action, and move beyond compliance, taking big swings, and hopefully making big change.

Lucy Curtin is practice lead – impact communications at South Pole Australia. 

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