Delivering on decarbonisation is everyone’s business. So how can organisations differentiate themselves?

At COP26 it was announced that UK firms will, from 2023, be forced to show how they will ‘hit’ net zero.

The announcement has been met with immediate criticism – campaign group Global Witness said that without the supporting regulation to enforce this, the pledges were “doomed to fail”. But regardless, the proposed Treasury rules carry implications for businesses and their Communication Directors, many of whom are already tasked with ensuring that their organisations’ initiatives and progress on reaching a 2050 net zero target are successfully communicated to political stakeholders, industry partners and the public.

Getting cut-through on this, in the media that matter, is not an insignificant challenge. Brooke Masters at the Financial Times highlights a major catch-22 in that, often, genuine progress is not headline-grabbing updates (“long-dated pledges and near-pointless gimmicks”) but the opposite – an “unglamorous, iterative process that involves thousands of tiny improvements”.

So, Communications Directors need to delicately balance the (understandable) organisational desire to realise the reputational benefits of talking about their progress – and the genuine, positive value of providing case studies and inspiration for others – and the greenwashing that we’re now so sceptical of and attuned to; of making audiences believe your company’s activities are more sustainable than they really are.

All of us in the comms industry will find ourselves managing this balance, of facilitating new conversations and being in positions to influence change and make it clear why our clients / organisations are relevant to our society and planet.

Whether you’re a scale-up searching for the platform to communicate the positive value you’re bringing, or an established organisation looking to convince the world you are a genuine force for good, this week’s news has implications. It was difficult to get meaningful cut through and reach audiences before on environmental issues, but in a world where every organisation will need to commit to the same climate pledge it’s going to get much harder to differentiate and generate interest.

Here are a few of the immediate points to consider:

1. Making net zero count

OK, so you’ve an objective to get coverage about the path you’re taking to net zero. But how are you going to make people care? Internal stakeholders must understand the power of storytelling, beyond placing a stake in the ground.

For the organisations making good progress already – keep talking about it. Communication ensures we’re held accountable to goals set. For those beginning their journeys, working with partners to understand how genuine impact can be made will often uncover challenges where innovation is needed at an organisational and industry level. This could be a good start in finding an angle that would make a real difference to climate goals, in a way that’s relevant to your business but also your sector and industry, and therefore pique the interest of journalists.

Sodexo, the food services group, is a global business and fits into the former category. It knows it can make an impact by cutting food waste and reducing carbon emissions in its supply chain. Bringing this story to life, the company secured Sky News TV coverage for Claire Atkins-Morris, director of sustainability, who was able to explain why reducing food waste can affect wider change among the services sector, as well as highlighting specific and tangible company targets and milestones met.

2. Bring industry with you

EY-sponsored CNBC platform sustainability reframed is a site well worth visiting – bringing to life how businesses really are in the sustainability challenge together.

On the site, Anne Richards the CEO of Fidelity International discusses the ambition of being net zero by 2030. How are they doing this? Well Gillian Lofts, Head of Sustainable Finance at EY says a business’s decarbonisation responsibility includes helping others get there as well. Part of Fidelity International’s strategy is to do this by ensuring that financial decisions made support the wider decarbonisation of the whole industry. For example, it has a global climate investing policy that seeks to halve the carbon footprint of their investment portfolios by 2030.

Reaching net zero can’t be done in silo, so engaging the whole supply chain and helping others to reduce their environmental footprint will not only speed up the process but give you a compelling platform to talk to the work you’re doing with direct relevance to The Bigger Picture. At the World Climate Summit at COP26, we helped Tetra Pak to convene academics, climate scientists and food and drink producers to discuss how the food sector can rapidly decarbonise. The ‘Transforming the Food Systems’ debate demonstrated how vital it is to collaborate with all parties across industry for the most effective approaches to emerge and spark greater change.

3. Steer the conversation

As part of the government’s plans to force firms to show how they will hit a net zero target, they are bringing together a task force. This will be made up industry leaders, regulators and civil society groups who will set a “science-based gold standard” and guard against greenwashing.

But, the government was also clear that there’snot yet a commonly agreed standard for what a good quality transition plan looks like.” Here lies challenge and opportunity. If your business is working within this space, if your leaders have informed opinions about what ‘good’ looks like, then now is the time to communicate and engage with political and business stakeholders.

Bold and informed views, supported by insights and the next level of thinking that genuinely tries to answer some of the questions on the table – this is what we want, and need, to read about in mainstream media. Do not wait for a taskforce to determine something that might not be fit for purpose. This conversation is relevant to all businesses, so encourage and empower your spokespeople to be part of the debate.

Ultimately, communicating your net zero goals will require creative storytelling to get editorial cut through. Be open about the challenges and opportunities that you have, and from this deliver advice. If you’d like to start a conversation with us, just email [email protected]