Why clean energy needs to be in your C-suite’s reputation vocabulary

by | Jan 25, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

Whether you’re in the midst of year-ahead client planning or plans are approved to move forward, chances are that “Climate Change/Clean Energy Agenda” has taken a front row seat in the conversation.

The connection between climate change, clean energy and corporate reputation has never been greater—and the time to make that connection matter is staring us in the face. For many, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) impact planning has begun while many are still challenged on where to start.

Calling climate change one of the four crises facing the country, President Biden will launch the boldest presidential climate and clean energy plan in history. His Administration will ride a wave of momentum accented by growing concerns about more-intense temperatures, wildfires, hurricanes and droughts, coupled with dropping prices of solar and wind power and an already-shrinking coal industry. And, he has vowed to ensure climate change is a core national security priority.

Mr. Biden is not the only one pushing this agenda forward.  A recent Wall Street Journal story highlighted how such global brand powerhouses as Amazon, Citigroup and Ford Motor Co. are calling on Congressional leaders to work with President-Elect Biden to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and “…enact ambitious, durable, bipartisan climate solutions.”

ESG = ROI

Our agency commissioned a study evaluating media coverage of ESG themes from September 2019 to August 2020. While 2020 focused sustained media attention on ESG topics, the real spike came before this year’s crises. Media coverage of ESG themes more than doubled the trend line around January 2020, when ESG issues took center stage at the World Economic Forum and asset manager BlackRock took a tougher stance against companies that failed to account for environmental risks.

Why does that affect us communicators? For starters, it means that there are opportunities to create new jobs while protecting our planet. In doing so, we are communicating that the relationship between climate change and corporate performance is more than a nice thing to do; in fact, they are totally connected.

By and large, having your organization think about clean energy and climate change can drive larger conversations about such big-picture issues as reducing fossil fuel energy costs and creating dramatic cost reductions in such technologies as battery storage, negative emissions technologies.  We are working with clients to help them focus on strategic research areas like clean energy, clean transportation, clean industrial processes and clean materials.

What’s more, any industry can and will be affected by these changes.  Some are obvious, but more are not so obvious and can create significant opportunities.

  • Banking and finance

Financial institutions have a real opportunity to step to the plate and be the catalyst for change.  Bloombergrecently shared a story about the relationship, suggesting that enlisting carbon pricing to lower emissions has seen some success in Europe. The U.S. has some regional carbon markets; we feel there will be more.

  • Transportation

This sector will benefit from the creation of new jobs across the entire automotive supply chain, with a particular focus on battery technology.  But we’ll also see opportunities for cities and brands, alike, to communicate the relationship they have with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options, ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.

  • Real estate and construction

Developers will see environmental justice becoming a key consideration in where, how, and with whom we build.  The Biden plan highlights that it wants to spur construction of 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units, upgrade four million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over four years (creating at least one million good-paying jobs).

Importantly, discussing the relationship between climate change and your brand should not be mere lip service.  ESG communications must be authentic, comprehensive, and thoroughly backed by evidence if they are to be effective.

Clean energy and climate change have entered the mainstream vernacular of many corporate executives.  Communicators should become familiar with this sector and, more importantly, look at ways for their brands to become intertwined with the results so everyone benefits.

Best practices for communicating climate change & clean energy initiatives

Follow these best practices to help shape your brand’s climate change agenda.

  • Start with an assessment of what climate-driven dimensions matter to your business.
  • Share a clear and simple chart of your metrics and performance.
  • Set SMART targets:
    • Science-based—Many climate change and clean energy issues can only really be tackled if actors across the economy react in keeping with scientific knowledge and guidance.
    • Measurable—To the extent possible, set measurable targets (e.g., net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030) so that performance can be compared over time and against your peers.
    • Ambitious—It’s important to work within your means, but properly formulated targets are consistent with broader environmental and social needs.
    • Relevant—What’s material to your business dictates relevance. For example, clean energy matters for an oil and gas company.
    • Time-bound—Targets need deadlines and goals to allow external parties to gauge progress.
  • Describe the role of your Board Of Directors in overseeing climate and clean energy activities.
  • Describe how ESG issues factor into your company’s overall risk management approach.
  • Specify ESG reporting validation—is it being done by an external auditor or on your own?
  • And of course, throughout all of this, remember to tell your company’s unique story while tying in how ESG themes drive value for your business.

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Laura Taylor
Laura Taylor is President and CEO of Silverline Communications, the leading national agency focused on the clean energy transition.

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