New research from comms giant WE Communications uncovers rising expectations from brand stakeholders that the move to a more climate-friendly economy should be fair and equitable to all people and communities—a principle known as “just transition.”
The firm’s latest Brands in Motion global report, Making Net Zero Net Positive for Everyone, conducted by WE and YouGov, finds that more than two-thirds of global study respondents say they believe brands should invest in projects to protect jobs and livelihoods in communities most affected by climate change, and 57 percent say they expect companies to address root causes and impacts of climate change.
“Climate action has to be more than balancing numbers like carbon emissions on a spreadsheet or focusing on shareholder value,” said Hannah Peters, executive vice president of corporate reputation and brand purpose at WE Communications, in a news release. “Transitioning to a greener world has social consequences, and brands have a responsibility to lead the conversation on how the positive impacts of a more sustainable world can benefit everyone.”
However, the research found many brands have work to do internally, with a substantial gap between C-suite aspirations and companywide actions and perceptions
Sixty-one percent of C-suite and executive-level officers say their companies are implementing or planning to implement strategies that support a just transition, but only 40 percent of senior and middle managers are aware of these plans. More than anything, this gap presents an opportunity for executives to communicate more regularly and directly with employees about their brand’s sustainability plans and the impact they’ll have both within, and beyond, the company’s walls.
This year’s study uncovers two main themes for how brands can act to move from lofty climate commitments to making real change and equitable impact:
The responsibility is on leaders
Although 64 percent of C-suite and executive leadership believes net zero by 2050 is likely, only 38 percent of senior and middle managers agrees. To overcome hesitancy and skepticism, leaders must kickstart the internal conversation about their organizations’ just transition strategies and be forthright about how the company will navigate the inevitable bumps in the road of change.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals are now table stakes
Nearly half of corporate leaders believing that shareholders would be willing to accept decreased returns to accelerate sustainability, but they must be careful not to overlook that creating a sustainable world requires deep structural change and long-term investment.
“A strong just transition strategy is the way forward,” said Rebecca Wilson, executive vice president, WE, Singapore and Australia, who champions client corporate reputation and brand purpose work across the APAC region, in the release. “Getting organizational buy-in may take time and effort, but the payoff is compelling: a more resilient economy and a livable planet.”
An inclusive sustainability story
The report dived deep into leadership expectations when it comes to the scope of sustainability initiatives and the level of brand involvement. Most respondents favored equitable growth and community-based initiatives.
Stakeholders want organizations to consider the entire ecosystem and create solutions for implementing structural change in their industries, with 64 percent saying they should address local impact to improve sustainability in the most vulnerable communities.
The message is clear: Lasting positive change is change that doesn’t leave anyone behind
Investments that generate positive social impact alongside financial returns are identified as key enablers of a just transition, in areas such as climate-friendly innovation and tech, as well as reskilling programs to help workers in developing or emerging markets adapt to change.
“A just transition is, by definition, one that includes all levels of society. Brands serious about joining the social conversation can’t limit their thinking to their own backyards,” Wilson said. “Inclusive strategies that share the fruits of our collective efforts will uplift communities in need and create a more equitable future for all.”
WE Communications partnered with YouGov to survey leaders with corporate sustainability responsibilities from around the world to uncover the most pivotal roles companies can play in the global sustainability crisis.